Egypt in turmoil
January 27, 2013
CAIRO – Egypt’s National Defense Council, headed by President Mohamed Morsi, Saturday condemned street violence and called for national dialogue to resolve political differences, the information minister said after the Council met.
The Council, which includes the defense minister, who is a general in charge of the army, could also consider declaring a state of emergency or a curfew in areas of violence if needed, Information Minister Salah Abdel Maqsoud said.
At least 39 people were killed in violence in Port Said Saturday over a court ruling and across the nation during Friday’s anti-Morsi protests.
Morsi canceled a scheduled trip to Ethiopia Saturday and instead met for the first time with top generals as part of the newly formed National Defense Council.
The Council called for “a broad national dialogue that would be attended by independent national characters” to discuss political differences and ensure a “fair and transparent” parliamentary election, the minister said in a televised statement.
Calls by the president and his government for national dialogue have been spurned in the past by the main liberal-minded opposition, who accuse Morsi and his allies of ignoring any opposing views.
The violence that first erupted Thursday, the eve of the anniversary of a revolt that started on Jan. 25, 2011, has highlighted the deep divisions in Egypt and cast a shadow over a parliamentary poll which could start in April.
The violence in Port Said erupted after a judge sentenced 21 people to death in connection with the Feb. 1 soccer melee that killed 74 fans of the Cairo-based Al-Ahly team. Executions in Egypt are usually carried out by hanging.
All the defendants — who were not present in the courtroom Saturday for security reasons — can appeal the verdict.
Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid did not give his reasoning when he read out the verdicts for 21 out of the 73 defendants Saturday. The verdict for the remaining 52 defendants, including nine security officials, is scheduled to be delivered March 9. Some have been charged with murder and others with assisting the attackers.
Die-hard soccer fans from both teams, known as Ultras, hold the police at least partially responsible for February’s violence, which was the world’s worst soccer violence in 15 years, saying officers at the game did nothing to stop the bloodshed. They also criticize Morsi for doing little to reform the police force or the judiciary since he took office in July.
In a statement Saturday, the main opposition National Salvation Front said it holds Morsi responsible for “the excessive use of force by the security forces against protesters.” They threatened to boycott upcoming parliamentary elections if Morsi does not meet their demands that include amending articles in the new constitution.
The Brotherhood said in its statement that “misleading” media outlets were to blame for “enflaming the people’s hatred for the current regime and urging them to act violently.”
Immediately after Saturday’s verdict was read live on state TV, two policemen were shot dead outside Port Said’s main prison when angry relatives tried to storm the facility to free the defendants. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as live rounds, at the crowd outside the prison.
In other parts of the city, residents tried to storm the governor’s office, police stations, the power station and the main court building. Residents occupied one police station in the east of Port Said.
The director of hospitals in Port Said, Dr. Abdel-Raham Farah, said two local soccer players were shot to death as they were apparently on their way to practice. He identified them as Mahmoud Abdel-Halim Al-Dizawi, who played for the city’s Al-Marikh club, and Tamer Al-Fahla, who used to play for the city’s main Al-Masry team. Al-Diwazi was shot three times, the doctor said.