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Egypt unrest marks major test for Morsi’s rule

A march in Cairo marking the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolt carried banners reading “Blood for blood” and “We will not say ‘peaceful’ any more.” In the following three days, around 50 people were killed in clashes in Egyptian provinces. After being criticised for his silence, President Mohammed Morsi gave a firm address on Sunday night, imposing a state of emergency and curfew on three restive cities and warning of more severe measures that could be taken.

“The recent acts have nothing to do with the revolution. They are against the law and incited by counter-revolution. The Egyptian people reject such actions, which are condemned by honourable revolutionaries,” Morsi said. By Monday morning, new concrete walls were erected in central Cairo to prevent protesters from reaching parliament buildings.

Intermittent clashes have continued since Friday, and more violence is feared as many plan to take to the streets to commemorate their day of rage two years ago, when the government cut off nearly all access to internet and mobile services. Some observers believe the hard-line measures put Morsi in the same category as his predecessor Hosny Mubarak, whose endorsement of security violence against opponents led to the popular revolt against him.

“Does anyone in full mental health need evidence on Mohamed Morsi’s failure in managing the country?” asked columnist Ibrahim Eissa. “The state of emergency, violence and repression, which the Brotherhood push their president towards, will bring the option of revolution against Morsi closer and more successful, or else Morsi will end up ruling an Egyptian Somalia,” he added.

Eissa, who was a long-time opponent of Mubarak, warned that protesters across the country are not currently interested in political solutions offered by the government or the opposition. “The angry groups protesting in all Egyptian provinces will not settle for anything less than completing the revolution.” Two years after the popular revolt that forced Mubarak from power, protesters are still using the same chants demanding “bread, freedom and social justice.” The economy is not doing any better than when Mubarak was in power, nor is freedom of expression.

The slogan “The people want to topple the regime,” used against Mubarak, is also now chanted against Morsi. Discussions on social networks have increasingly drawn comparisons between Morsi, Mubarak, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ruled the country for a transitional period of 16 months. Some people have even suggested that Egypt will go back to square one, with the military taking over power.

Analyst Gamal Sultan thinks this is an unlikely step, but he does not rule out the Supreme Council playing a role to end what he described as “power struggle between Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group and the opposition forces.” “Morsi believes that responding unconditionally to the opposition’s demands undermines his position and make the opposition look victorious, even though it could end the crisis,” he said.

Egypt’s largest opposition group, the National Salvation Front, has refused Morsi’s call for a dialogue unless he meets their demands for a new government, amending the constitution, disbanding the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament and independence of the judiciary. Abdul-Nasser Salama, editor-in-chief of the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, blamed the opposition for the current stalemate.

“In spite of the state of panic that seized the Egyptian family over the past few days, making streets look deserted as if we were on the verge of war, some forces have not changed their position, but rather kept on raising the ceiling of their demands,” he wrote on the paper’s front page.

Amid this political struggle, clashes continued and one more person was killed in Cairo. Protesters were marking the anniversary of January 28, 2011 – one of the bloodiest days of the 18-day revolt. Many groups seem disconnected from the political developments and take to the streets in defiance of Morsi’s warnings.

“The security solution is a failure that has been previously used by Mubarak and the military junta. The security solution will complicate the situation… Such measures will provoke more groups to challenge them,” said Ahmed Maher, the leader of the April 6 Youth Movement opposition group.

Nehal El-Sherif, "Egypt unrest marks major test for Morsi’s rule," Business recorder. 2013-01-29.