Egypt crisis cuts Mursi’s trip to Germany


Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi flew to Germany on Wednesday to convince Europe of his democratic credentials, leaving behind a country in crisis after a wave of violence that has killed more than 50 people.

The Egyptian army chief warned on Tuesday that the state was on the brink of collapse if political factions did not end the street battles that have resumed two years after the revolt that toppled long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Because of the crisis, Mursi has curtailed the schedule of his European visit, cancelling plans to go to Paris after Berlin. He is due to return to Cairo later on Wednesday.

Near Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Wednesday morning, dozens of protesters threw stones at police who fired back with teargas, although the scuffles were short-lived.
“Our demand is simply that Mursi 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.

Mursi’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.

Mursi’s supporters say the protesters want to overthrow Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. The unrest has prevented a return to stability, worsening an economic crisis that has seen the pound currency tumble in recent weeks.

Mursi responded to the violence by announcing on Sunday a month-long state of emergency in three restive cities on the Suez Canal – Port Said, Ismailia and Suez – imposing a curfew and allowing soldiers to arrest civilians.

Protesters ignored the curfew and returned to the streets on Monday although the streets grew quieter on Tuesday. The worst violence has been in Port Said, where rage was fuelled by death sentences passed against soccer fans for deadly riots last year.

The instability has made the West uneasy about the direction of the Arab world’s most populous country. Mursi will be keen to allay those fears when he meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel and powerful industry groups in Berlin.
“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 Mursi’s arrival.

Germany’s “offer to help with Egypt’s transformation clearly depends on it sticking to democratic reforms”, he added.

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

Berlin was also alarmed by video that emerged in recent weeks showing Mursi 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.

Westerwelle called Mursi’s past anti-Jewish remarks “unacceptable. But at the same time President Mursi has played a very constructive role mediating in the Gaza conflict”.

Mursi has so far resisted calls from the main liberal and secularist opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, for a national unity government.

Those calls were backed on Tuesday by the hardline Islamist Nour party – rivals of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Officials from Nour and the Front were due to meet on Wednesday to discuss Nour’s proposals, suggesting an unlikely alliance of Mursi’s critics from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagy said the Front was trying to take power despite having lost elections. He used his Facebook page to ridicule “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 there.
“At the moment many firms are waiting on political developments and are cautious on any big investments,” said Hans Heinrich Driftmann, president of Germany’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK).

DIHK’s Africa expert Steffen Behm said no companies were leaving Egypt but none were newly setting up there either.

Mursi’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.

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that any collapse in Egypt would send shock waves across the wider region.
“(But) it cannot in any way be overlooked that there is a large number of Egyptians who are not satisfied with the direction of the economy and the political reform,” she said.
“This is not an easy task. It’s very difficult going from a closed regime and essentially one-man rule to a democracy that is trying to be born and learn to walk,” said Clinton.