Through the Wire

Tensions Flare in Egypt as Thousands Defy First Night of Curfew

January 29, 2013
| Security
| Middle East and North Africa

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Egyptians defied a curfew imposed on three Suez Canal cities, openly challenging President Mohamed Mursi and dimming hopes for ending days of unrest that have clouded the country’s bid for stability.

Tensions also flared in other cities, including clashes in Cairo, in a continuation of the violence that has left more than 50 dead since the Jan. 25 second anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. At least one person was killed in the capital yesterday and dozens wounded in skirmishes with security forces nationwide, on what was the first day after Mursi imposed a state of emergency in the provinces of Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez.

The unrest -- largely a manifestation of the rifts between secularists and Islamists -- is thwarting efforts to restore the political order needed to revive an economy still struggling to recover from the 2011 uprising. Mursi’s critics say he has reneged on campaign pledges, and is intent solely on cementing Islamist rule at the expense of the nation’s interests.

“We will not let down this great people by attending a dialogue that we know will have a dead-end,” Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said yesterday as he and other secular opposition leaders rejected Mursi’s call for talks.

While some political leaders did attend the talks with the president, most of the attendees were Islamists largely in lock- step with him. The National Salvation Bloc opposition alliance boycotted the talks.

Dangers Facing Egypt

Port Said’s governor gave government workers the day off today and vowed he would work to have the curfew lifted if order is restored, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.

The rejection by some of the opposition to engage in dialogue “reflects their lack of understanding of responsibility and the dangers” confronting the nation, said Galal Mora, the secretary-general of the Salafi Nour Party, according to the state-run Ahram Online website.

In Port Said overnight, thousands chanted “Leave, leave,” drawing on the vernacular of the 2011 uprising in rallying against the Islamist president who they blame for the deaths there. Some hoisted what they called an “independence” flag.

The fatalities in the city came after death sentences were handed down against 21 people in connection with last year’s fatal stadium riot in the city that left over 70 dead.

The tensions have sullied prospects for a quick recovery and sounded alarm bells in Western capitals. The Arab world’s most populous nation is seeing a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help cushion an economy that has seen the Egyptian pound fall 7 percent in the past month

In Washington, Victoria Nuland, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, urged all sides “to work together through dialogue” to resolve issues, and she called on the government to respect citizens’ rights.

“We are watching how the emergency law put in place will be applied, given the very sensitive history of this in Egypt,” she told reporters at the State Department. “What’s most important is that the Egyptian government respect the rights of all Egyptians to due process going forward.”

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