independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Egypt seeks end to crisis with quick elections

Members of the Republican Guards stand in line at a barricade blocking protesters supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi near a Republican Guards headquarters in Cairo
Members of the Republican Guards stand in line at a barricade blocking protesters supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi near a Republican Guards headquarters in Cairo

Egypt's interim rulers issued a faster than expected timetable for elections to try to drag the country out of crisis

 Egypt's interim rulers unveiled a quick timetable for elections and won a $3 billion cash lifeline from the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, a day after 55 people were killed when troops fired on a crowd supporting ousted President Mohamed Mursi.

 

The worst day of violence in more than a year has left Egypt more divided than ever in its modern history, and added to pressure on the military-led authorities to explain how they will restore democracy after the army toppled Mursi last week.

 

Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood rejected the proposed plan for constitutional changes and elections to be held in about six months, holding fast to its demand for the reinstatement of Egypt's first freely elected leader.

 

Senior Brotherhood figure Essam El-Erian condemned "a constitutional decree issued after midnight by a person appointed by the putchists, usurping the legislative power from a council elected by the people, and bringing the country back to stage zero".

 

In an important signal for the transitional authorities, the ultra-orthodox Islamist Nour Party said it would accept ex-finance minister Samir Radwan as prime minister, potentially paving the way for an interim cabinet.

 

The Brotherhood says Monday's violence was an unprovoked attack on worshippers holding peaceful prayers. But in a sign of the country's deep divisions, most Cairo residents seemed to accept the official account and blamed the Brotherhood for its members' deaths. That has left the deposed president's followers isolated and angrier than ever.

 

The bloodshed in the Arab world's most populous nation has raised alarm among key donors such as the United States and the European Union, as well as in Israel, with which Egypt has had a U.S.-backed peace treaty since 1979.

 

Millions of people took to the streets on June 30 to demand Mursi's resignation, fearing he was orchestrating a creeping Islamist takeover of the state.

 

To the Brotherhood, his removal amounted to the reversal of democracy a year after he became Egypt's first freely elected leader. Islamists fear a return to the suppression they endured for decades under autocratic rulers.

 

"The only road map is the restoration of the president elected by the people," said Hoda Ghaneya, 45, a Muslim Brotherhood women's activist. "We will not accept less than that, even if they kill us all."

 

MORE PROTESTS CALLED

 

The streets of Cairo were quiet on Tuesday but the Brotherhood called for more protests later in the day, raising the risk of further violence.

 

Medical sources confirmed at least 55 people had been killed, raising the death toll in the incident, the deadliest in the two-and-a-half years of Egypt's political turmoil apart from a riot at a soccer stadium in 2012.

 

Thousands of pro-Mursi protesters are now camped out at a mosque in northeast Cairo, while elsewhere in the city residents are flying banners from their balconies with portraits of the military commander who toppled him.

 

Egyptian media, mainly controlled by the state and Mursi's opponents, praised the army and denounced Monday's violence as the provocation of terrorists. Cairenes seemed to agree.

 

"Of course I condemn this: Egyptian versus Egyptian. But the people attacked the army, not the other way around," said Abdullah Abdel Rayal, 58, shopping in a street market in downtown Cairo on Tuesday morning.

 

UAE PROVIDES CASH

 

Arab states, long suspicious of the Brotherhood, have signalled support for Mursi's overthrow. UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed became the most senior foreign official to visit Egypt since the army toppled Mursi last week.

 

He brought a promise of a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion, money that will help Egypt provide food and fuel for its 84 million people. That replenishes funds which have been running desperately short after two years of unrest drove away tourists and investors.

 

An Egyptian source close to negotiations said Saudi Arabia would also lend $2 billion within two days. Both Gulf countries had promised money after former autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011 but never sent the aid while Mursi's Brotherhood was in power.

 

Adli Mansour, the judge named head of state by the army when it brought down Mursi last week, decreed overnight that a parliamentary vote would be held in about six months, faster than many expected. That would be followed by a presidential election. An amended constitution would be put to a referendum.

 

The military-backed authorities seem to be resigned to restarting politics without the Brotherhood. Instead, they are courting the support of the country's other main Islamist group, the ultra-orthodox Nour Party, Mursi's occasional allies.

 

In what appeared to be an olive branch to Islamists that irritated liberals, Mansour's decree included language put into the constitution last year that defined the principles of Islamic sharia law.

 

Nour said on Monday it was pulling out of all talks towards a transition as a result of the attack on Mursi supporters. But its signal that it would support a former finance minister as prime minister showed it has not fully abandoned politics.

 

Radwan, the former finance minister, has emerged as favourite to lead a government after Nour rejected Mohamed ElBaradei, a former U.N. diplomat and secularist politician.

 

Nour spokesman Nader Bakkar said Radwan met its conditions: "We asked for a technocrat economist ... a neutral guy."

 

BLOODSTAINED SHEETS

 

Protesters said Monday's shooting started as they performed morning prayers outside the barracks. Military spokesman Ahmed Ali said that at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) armed men attacked troops in the area in the northeast of the city. Emergency services said in addition to the dead 435 people were wounded.

 

At a hospital near Cairo's Rabaa Adawiya mosque, where many of the wounded and dead were taken on Monday, rooms were crammed full, sheets were stained with blood.

 

On Friday, clashes between pro- and anti-Mursi supporters had swept across Egyptian cities, killing 35 people.

 

Nathan Brown, a leading expert on Egypt's constitution at George Washington University in Washington, said that while the overnight decree laid out a clear sequence for transition, it repeated some mistakes made two years ago, after Mubarak.

 

"It was drawn up by an anonymous committee; it was issued by executive fiat; the timetable is rushed; the provisions for consultation are vague; and it promises inclusiveness but gives no clear procedural guidelines for it," he told Reuters.

 

Although Tuesday was comparatively quiet, there were minor incidents reported by late morning. Gunmen fired on a church in Port Said at the mouth of the Suez Canal overnight. Two people were wounded, medical sources said.

 

The West has had a difficult time formulating a public response, after years of pushing Arab leaders towards democracy while at the same time nervous about the Brotherhood's rise. Demonstrators on both sides in Egypt have chanted anti-American slogans, accusing Washington of backing their enemies.

 

Washington has refrained from calling the military intervention a "coup" - a label that under U.S. law would require it to halt aid. It called on Egypt's army to exercise "maximum restraint" but has said it is not about to halt funding for Egypt, including the $1.3 billion it gives the military.

The army has insisted that the overthrow was not a coup and that it was enforcing the "will of the people" after millions took to the streets on June 30 to call for Mursi's resignation.

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