Morsi Heads to Germany on Trip Cut Back by Egypt Crisis

Wednesday, 30 Jan 2013 07:26 AM

 

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CAIRO/BERLIN — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi flew to Germany on Wednesday to try to convince Europe of his democratic credentials, leaving behind a country in crisis after a week of violence that has killed more than 50 people.

Two more protesters were shot dead before dawn near Cairo's central Tahrir Square on the seventh day of what has become the deadliest wave of unrest since Morsi took power in June.

The Egyptian army chief warned on Tuesday that the state was on the brink of collapse if Morsi's opponents and supporters did not end street battles that have marked the two-year anniversary of the revolt that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Because of the crisis, Morsi has curtailed his European visit, canceling plans to go to Paris after Berlin. He is due to return to Cairo later in the day.

Near Tahrir Square on Wednesday morning, dozens of protesters threw stones at police who fired back teargas, although the scuffles were brief.

"Our demand is simply that Morsi goes, and leaves the country alone. He is just like Mubarak and his crowd who are now in prison," said Ahmed Mustafa, 28, a youth who had goggles on his head to protect his eyes from teargas.

Opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei called for a meeting between the president, government ministers, the ruling party and the opposition to halt the violence.

But he also restated the opposition's precondition that Morsi first commit to seeking a national unity government, which the president has so far rejected.

Morsi's critics accuse him of betraying the spirit of the revolution by keeping too much power in his own hands and those of his Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement banned under Mubarak which won repeated elections since the 2011 uprising.

Morsi's supporters say the protesters want to overthrow Egypt's first democratically elected leader.

The unrest has prevented a return to stability ahead of parliamentary elections due within months, and worsened an economic crisis that has seen the pound currency tumble in recent weeks.

The worst violence has been in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, where rage was fueled by death sentences passed against soccer fans for deadly riots last year.

Morsi responded by announcing on Sunday a month-long state of emergency and curfew in Port Said and two other Suez Canal cities.

Protesters have ignored the curfew and returned to the streets. Human Rights Watch called for Morsi to lift the decree.

Morsi will be keen to allay the West's fears over the future of the most populous Arab country when he meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel and powerful industry groups in Berlin.

"DISTURBING IMAGES"

"We have seen worrying images in recent days, images of violence and destruction, and I appeal to both sides to engage in dialogue," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a radio interview on Wednesday ahead of Morsi's arrival.

Germany's "offer to help with Egypt's transformation clearly depends on it sticking to democratic reforms," he added.

Germany has praised Morsi's efforts in mediating a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza after a conflict last year, but became concerned at Morsi's efforts to expand his powers and fast-track a constitution last year.

Berlin was also alarmed by video that emerged in recent weeks showing Morsi making vitriolic remarks against Jews and Zionists in 2010 when he was a senior Brotherhood official. Germany's Nazi past and strong support of Israel make it highly sensitive to anti-Semitism.

Morsi's past anti-Jewish remarks were "unacceptable," Westerwelle said. "But at the same time President Morsi has played a very constructive role mediating in the Gaza conflict."

Egypt's main liberal and secularist bloc, the National Salvation Front, has so far refused talks with Morsi unless he promises a unity government including opposition figures.

"Stopping the violence is the priority, and starting a serious dialogue requires committing to guarantees demanded by the National Salvation Front, at the forefront of which are a national salvation government and a committee to amend the constitution," ElBaradei said on Twitter.

Those calls have also been backed by the hardline Islamist Nour party - rivals of Morsi's Brotherhood. Nour and the Front were due to meet on Wednesday, signaling an unlikely alliance of Morsi's critics from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagy dismissed the unity government proposal as a ploy for the Front to take power despite having lost elections. On his Facebook page he ridiculed "the leaders of the Salvation Front, who seem to know more about the people's interests than the people themselves".

German industry leaders see potential in Egypt but are concerned about political instability: "At the moment many firms are waiting on political developments and are cautious on any big investments," said Hans Heinrich Driftmann, head of Germany's Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

Morsi's supporters blame the opposition for preventing an economic recovery by halting efforts to restore stability. The opposition says an inclusive government is needed to bring calm.

"The economy depends on political stability and political stability depends on national consensus. But the Muslim Brotherhood does not talk about consensus, and so it will not lead to any improvement in the political situation, and that will lead the economy to collapse," said teacher Kamal Ghanim, 38, a protester in Tahrir Square.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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