Bomb Kills Three Policemen, Including Witness Against Mursi

Bomb_MursiA bomb blast beside Egypt’s foreign ministry killed three policemen on Sunday, including a key witness in a trial of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

The blast, the worst attack in Cairo for months, killed two police lieutenant colonels and a recruit, according to the foreign ministry.

Ajnad Misr, the Islamist militant group that carried out the last significant attack in Cairo, claimed responsibility for the blast in a statement posted on their official Twitter account.

“This new operation shows we can penetrate and reach the vicinity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…to destroy the officers of the criminal security agencies and make them taste some of what they have made Muslims taste,” it said.

“Operations of retribution and revenge by this blessed group will not stop,” said the group, whose name means Soldiers of Egypt.

The blast was the latest attack in a simmering insurgency against the U.S.-backed government, underlining security challenges facing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Sisi, who has just completed 100 days in office, has pushed through some badly-needed economic reforms such as a rise in fuel prices. But tackling Islamist militants, an issue that has dogged one Egyptian leader after another, is far from easy.

Egypt has faced rising Islamist militant violence since Sisi ousted Mursi last year after mass protests against his rule and cracked down on Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the government has declared a terrorist group.

One of the police officers killed in Sunday’s blast, Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Mahmoud Abu Sareeaa, was a critical witness in a trial of Mursi related to a 2011 mass prison break, court and security sources told Reuters.

It was not clear if he was targeted or just happened to be at the site of the explosion.

The challenge of containing militancy has become more complex since Islamic State militants expanded their control over northern Iraq and eastern Syria in June and declared a caliphate, inspiring other militant groups including some based along Egypt’s border with chaotic Libya.

Islamic State established ties with Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and has been coaching Egypt’s most lethal militant organisation, security officials and an Ansar commander told Reuters.

MILITANT NETWORK

Smoke rose and people ran after Sunday’s blast along a sidewalk in the neighbourhood of Boulaq bu Eila, just behind the Foreign Ministry, located in a high rise building beside the Nile.

There was no damage to the Foreign Ministry building and work was proceeding normally, though security had been tightened, a source in the ministry told Reuters. Airport authorities said they were also taking greater precautions.

The last significant attack in Cairo was on June 30, when two policemen died trying to defuse bombs planted by Ajnad Misr near the presidential palace.

Sunday’s blast caused a tree to fall on a car. Blood stained a busy intersection beside a crowded market.

While the death toll was low, any attack in the capital is bound to cast doubt over the effectiveness of security forces, who have vowed to end Islamist militant bloodshed that has hammered the tourism industry, a pillar of the economy.

Sisi has repeatedly expressed concerns about militancy in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.

Security forces have killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, arrested thousands and put top leaders on trial, severely weakening what was once Egypt’s most organised political group.

The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful activism, but authorities make no distinction between the Brotherhood and groups such as Ansar, which has in recent weeks beheaded several people it has identified as spies for Israeli intelligence, suggesting it has become more radical.

Despite several army operations Egypt’s military has struggled to tackle Ansar and other militant groups which have posed a challenge to authorities for decades.

The Egyptian state has crushed militant groups in the past but they often recover. In the 1990s, militants staged attacks against government officials and foreign tourists. It took then President Hosni Mubarak years to defeat them.

Egypt suffered other losses on Sunday. Six soldiers were killed after a military aircraft crashed due to a technical failure, the army spokesman said.

Egypt Imposes State Of Emergency After 95 People Killed

At least 95 Egyptians were killed on Wednesday after security forces moved in on protesters demanding the reinstatement of President Mohamed Mursi, and the government imposed a state of emergency as unrest swept the most populous Arab nation.

Troops opened fire on demonstrators in violence that brought chaos to areas of the capital and looked certain to further polarize Egypt’s 84 million people between those who backed Mursi and the millions who opposed his brief rule.

The state of emergency, starting at 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, was to last a month.

In the streets around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in northeast Cairo, where thousands of Mursi supporters have staged a sit-in for the last six weeks, riot police wearing gas masks crouched behind armored vehicles, tear gas hung in the air and burning tires sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.

At a hospital morgue nearby, a Reuters reporter counted 29 bodies, including that of a 12-year-old boy. Most had died of gunshot wounds to the head. A nurse at the same hospital had said she counted 60 bodies, and expected the number to rise.

The unrest spread beyond the capital, with the cities of Minya and Assiut, and Alexandria on the northern coast, also affected. Seventeen people were killed in the province of Fayoum south of Cairo. Five more died in Suez.

Mohamed El-Beltagi, a leader of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement that led the protests, warned of wider conflict and singled out the head of the armed forces who deposed Mursi on July 3 following mass protests that called for his resignation.

“I swear by God that if you stay in your homes, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will embroil this country so that it becomes Syria. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will push this nation to a civil war so that he escapes the gallows.”

Nine hours after the start of the operation, crowds of protesters were still blocking roads, chanting and waving flags as security forces sought to prevent them from regrouping.

“At 7 a.m. they came. Helicopters from the top and bulldozers from below. They smashed through our walls. Police and soldiers, they fired tear gas at children,” said teacher Saleh Abdulaziz, 39, clutching a bleeding wound on his head.

“They continued to fire at protesters even when we begged them to stop.”

The West, notably the United States which gives the Egyptian military $1.3 billion each year, has been alarmed by the recent violence in the strategic Arab ally that has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the vital Suez Canal waterway.

Military Intervention Saved Egypt From Collapse – Prof Oyebode

A Professor of International Law at the University of Lagos, Akin Oyebode on Friday averred that the intervention by the Egyptian military in the nation’s democracy saved the country from total shut down.

Prof Oyebode, a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, said that the ousted President, Mohamed Mursi displayed political ‘naivety’ by ignoring the citizen’s demands for better governance.

He added that Mursi has been playing with power even though he ‘merely’ won the election.

Speaking about the over 20 million Egyptians who signed a petition against the Mursi led government, Prof Oyebode described the Egyptian Army’s moves as ‘calculated’.

He warned that all African countries should be weary because nothing invites the military more than bad governance.

Although ex-president Mursi was educated in America and had a doctorate degree from the University of Southern California where he was made assistant Professor, Prof Oyebode said “he ought to have demonstrated greater political savvy”.

He added that the exit of Mursi signals the collapse of religious politics in Egypt, ‘the epicenter of Arab civilization,’ which was the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.

Mursi “did not do enough to bring all the groups together” even though “he inherited a divided country,” he said.

Prof Oyebode was of the opinion that the situation in Egypt is an unfolding scenario and the international community needs to wait for the outcome of the ‘debacle’.

Egypt Locked In Standoff After Millions Rally Against Mursi

Egypt was locked in a tense standoff on Monday after millions of protesters swarmed into the streets to demand the resignation of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi and militants set the ruling Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters on fire.

Young revolutionaries united with liberal and leftist opposition parties in a massive show of defiance on the first anniversary of Mursi’s inauguration on Sunday, chanting “the people demand the fall of the regime”.

The demonstrations, which brought half a million people to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square and a similar crowd in the second city, Alexandria, were easily the largest since the Arab Spring uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

After dawn on Monday, young men were still preventing traffic entering Tahrir Square but only hundreds of people remained, some resting under makeshift awnings.

Mursi, the most populous Arab state’s first freely elected leader, stayed out of sight throughout the protests but acknowledged through a spokesman that he had made mistakes while adding that he was working to fix them and was open to dialogue.

He showed no sign of quitting.

An aide to Mursi said he was “encouraged” that events had unfolded mostly peacefully : “This is another day of democratic practice that we all cherish,” he said in a statement.

He accused the opposition of being vague in its demands and outlined three ways forward: first, parliamentary elections, which he called “the most obvious”; second, national dialogue, which he said opponents had repeatedly rejected; and third, early presidential elections, as demanded by protesters.

But that, he said, “simply destroys our democracy”.

The massive protests showed that the ruling Muslim Brotherhood has not only alienated liberals and secularists by seeking to entrench Islamic rule but has also angered millions of ordinary Egyptians with economic mismanagement.

Tourism and investment have dried up, inflation is rampant and fuel supplies are running short, with power cuts lengthening in the summer heat.

Dozens of militants attacked the Brotherhood’s national headquarters in Cairo with shotguns, petrol bombs and rocks, setting it on fire, and targeted offices of its political party across the country.

There was no sign of police or fire service protection for the Brotherhood’s head office, where witnesses said guards inside the building fired on the attackers. Two people died and 11 were injured in that clash, hospital sources said.

Protest organizers called on Egyptians to keep occupying central squares across the country in a campaign of peaceful civil disobedience until Mursi quits.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators stayed in Tahrir Square long after midnight, appearing to heed the call for a sit-in. But as the working day began, only hundreds remained.

Spotlight on army

If protesters maintain their camps, however, and return in the evenings, the spotlight will be on the army. It displayed its neutrality on Sunday, making goodwill gestures to the protesters after urging feuding politicians last week to cooperate to solve the nation’s problems.

Some uniformed policemen marched among protesters in Cairo and Alexandria, chanting “the police and the people are one”, and several senior officers addressed the Tahrir Square crowd.

That cast doubt on whether Mursi could rely on the security forces to clear the streets if he gave the order.

Diplomats said the army, which ruled uneasily during the transition from Mubarak’s fall to Mursi’s election, had signaled it was deeply reluctant to step in again, unless violence got out of hand and national security was at stake.

While the main demonstrations were peaceful and festive in atmosphere, seven people were shot dead in clashes in the central cities of Assiut, Beni Suef and Fayoum and outside the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters. The Health Ministry said 613 people were wounded in street fighting around the country.

Women’s activists said at least 43 women, including a foreign journalist, suffered organized sexual assaults by gangs of men during the Tahrir Square rally.

The opposition National Salvation Front coalition of liberal, secular and left-wing parties declared victory, saying the masses had “confirmed the downfall of the regime of Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood”.

NEXT MOVE UNCLEAR

Opposition leaders, who have seen previous protest waves fizzle after a few days in December and January, were to meet on Monday afternoon to plot their next move.

Influential Qatar-based Muslim cleric Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, visiting Cairo, appealed to fellow Egyptians to show more patience with Mursi, while saying the president had made errors.

“How long has Mohamed Mursi ruled? One year,” Qaradawi said in a television address. “Is one year enough to solve the problems of 60 years? That’s impossible … We must give the man a chance and help him. Everyone must cooperate.”

The United States and the European Union have urged Mursi to share power with the opposition, saying only a national consensus can help Egypt overcome a severe economic crisis and build democratic institutions.

Mursi and his Brotherhood supporters have so far rebuffed such pressure, arguing that he has democratic legitimacy and the opposition is merely seeking to achieve on the streets what it failed to secure at the ballot box.

Egyptians Defy Curfew Imposed By Mursi

Protests and violence have continued overnight in Egypt as thousands defied curfews imposed by President Mohammed Morsi, who declared a state of emergency on Monday.

Marches took place in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez after dark, despite the curfews and a temporary state of emergency.

Dozens of people have been killed in five days of violent protests.

Meanwhile, Mr Morsi’s call for national dialogue has been rejected by his political opponents.

He had urged opposition leaders to attend a meeting on Sunday evening in an effort to calm the situation, but only Islamists already aligned with the president turned up.

The latest protests in the cities along the Suez canal were sparked by death sentences handed down by a Port Said court on 21 local football fans involved in deadly riots at a football match in the city almost a year ago.

Elsewhere Egyptians more broadly opposed to Mr Morsi’s authority have taken to the streets in the wake of the Egyptian revolution’s second anniversary.

More deaths on Monday mean that between 50 and 60 people are now believed to have been killed in violent clashes with security forces since Thursday.

Earlier, state news agency Mena reported six deaths in Port Said during daylight hours on Monday, when funerals were held for three people killed on Sunday.

After nightfall, groups attacked police stations and one man was killed, according to medical sources.

Security men and soldiers were also injured, Egyptian authorities said, but troops in tanks and armoured vehicles in Suez and Port Said did not appear to be intervening to uphold the curfew.

One protester in Ismailia, Khalid Ali, said: “We are completely rejecting everything that President Morsi declared yesterday.

“He imposed a curfew and a state of emergency which he used to oppose when he was a member of the parliament. We are here in Ismailia in solidarity with our brothers in Suez and Port Said.”

‘Excessive force’

In Suez, people defied the curfew to march towards the headquarters of the provincial government.

In Cairo, where no curfew has yet been imposed, violence continued on Monday with one man killed by gunfire near Tahrir Square.

Clashes between protesters and police appeared to centre around the Qasr el-Nil bridge that leads on to the square.

Also in Cairo, a senior police officer was seized by protesters and briefly held at a hotel before activists negotiated his release.

The officer had been leading security forces near the US embassy on Monday when he was grabbed.

State TV said a total of 590 people had been injured in violence across Egypt on Monday alone, with most of them in Port Said.

In response to the growing violence on the streets, Egypt’s cabinet approved a draft law allowing the army to participate in policing and have the power of arrest. The bill was later passed by the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.

The text of the bill says the army will “support the police in maintaining order and protecting vital installations until the end of parliamentary elections and whenever the National Defence Council, headed by Mr Morsi, requests it”.

Meanwhile the human rights group Amnesty International condemned the use of violence by Egyptian security forces dealing with protests citing “disturbing eyewitness accounts of excessive force… including instances of lethal force”.

‘Form, not content’

Mr Morsi’s call for dialogue appeared to fall on deaf ears, both in the streets and among political opponents.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading member of the opposition National Salvation Front, told journalists that before it would attend any national dialogue, the president would have to appoint a national unity government and take steps to amend the disputed constitution.

“The dialogue to which the president invited us is to do with form and not content,” Mr ElBaradei said.

“We support any dialogue if it has a clear agenda that can shepherd the nation to the shores of safety.”

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, speaking at the same news conference, said: “We aspire to a dialogue, but there are no guarantees that this dialogue will be a success… while blood is being spilled.”

Mr Morsi invited representatives from 11 political forces – Islamists, liberals and leftists – to come to the presidential palace for talks on Monday evening, but only Islamists attended.

President Mursi Declares State Of Emergency

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has declared a month-long state of emergency in three cities, along the Suez Canal where dozens of people have been killed over the past four days in protests, which his allies describe as a means to overthrow him.

Seven people were yesterday shot dead and hundreds were injured in Port.

A total of 49 people have been killed since Thursday and Mursi’s opponents, who accuse his Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of betraying the revolution that ousted long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak, have called for more demonstrations on Monday.

“Down, down Mursi, down down the regime that killed and tortured us!” people in Port Said, chanted as the coffins of those killed on Saturday were carried through the streets.

Mursi, who was elected in June, is trying to fix a beleaguered economy and cool tempers before a parliamentary poll in the next few months which is supposed to cement Egypt’s transition to democracy. Repeated eruptions of violence have weighed heavily on the Egyptian pound.

In a televised address, he said a nightly curfew would be introduced in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez, starting from Monday.

Several hundred people protested in Ismailia, Suez and Port Said after the announcement, in which Mursi also called for a dialogue with top politicians. Activists in the three cities vowed to defy the curfew in protest at the decision.

“The protection of the Nation is the responsibility of everyone. We will confront any threat to its security with force and firmness within the remit of the law,” he said, offering condolences to families of the victims.