Egypt opposition cool to Morsi's offer of talks amid state of emergency

Egypt's opposition leaders say talks with President Mohamed Morsi about weekend unrest are pointless unless they also address fundamental issues that leave Egypt prone to instability.

Smoke rises after Egyptian protesters clash with police, unseen, in Port Said, Egypt, on Sunday.

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Egypt's opposition leaders will meet later today to consider President Mohamed Morsi's offer of emergency talks to determine a response to ongoing unrest, but their initial response has been cool at best.

Individual leaders have warned that unless the government addresses more fundamental problems that leave Egypt ripe for upheaval, talks will be "a waste of time."

President Morsi declared a state of emergency yesterday in the provinces of Port Said, Ismailiya, and Suez after a weekend of violence and protests that left scores dead. The rioting began two days earlier in response to a court sentencing 21 people to death for their involvement in a soccer riot in February. Mr. Morsi called for a meeting with opposition leaders to discuss how to resolve the crisis.

But while the capital sentences may have been the trigger for the riots, opposition leaders blame the president's policies for the underlying unrest, and said that a meeting that does not also address Morsi's role in fomenting instability would be pointless, reports Reuters.

"Unless the president takes responsibility for the bloody events and pledges to form a government of national salvation and a balanced committee to amend the constitution, any dialogue will be a waste of time," Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent politician who founded the Constitution Party, wrote on Twitter

Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist politician and presidential candidate who is another leading member of the [National Salvation Front opposition coalition], said he would not attend Monday's meeting "unless the bloodshed stops and the people's demands are met."

Ahmed Said of the liberal Free Egyptians Party said Morsi's tone on Sunday night was more threatening than conciliatory. "Egypt is in danger and completely split," he told Reuters.

The Monitor's Kristen Chick reported yesterday that many analysts agree with the opposition's sentiment that the current upheaval – both the soccer conviction protests and ongoing anti-Morsi protests which increased in intensity on Jan. 25, the second anniversary of the 2011 uprising – "is a symptom of an unresolved political crisis and the decreasing legitimacy of state institutions."

“I think it's indicative of the way in which the authority and legitimacy of the state have receded, and is reflective of a very deep-seated political crisis," says Michael Hanna, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation who is currently in Cairo. "It's going to be very difficult to reestablish that authority because they are acting unilaterally. And the tools that they are employing to try to reestablish authority are the tools of repression that have and continue to generate a destabilizing effect in the form of protests and mass mobilization," he says of Morsi's government.

A constitution drafting process that marginalized the opposition, and bringing the document to a vote despite their protests, “served to institutionalize the political crisis,” he says. “And I think we're seeing some of the fruits of that. It's been coupled with frustration that he has not been able to deliver tangible reforms or improvements in people's lives.”

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool noted in a broadcast that the protests are also a byproduct of the success of the demonstrations against Mubarak: "People saw two years ago that taking to the streets is something that works. Even though of course two years ago over 800 people died, people saw that it produced results."

"Since then, that sort of replaced normal politics," he said. "People take to the streets, we've seen over the last couple of days, in opposition to what they feel the president is doing, or even when it comes to a judgment they didn't like in the courts – in the case of Port Said, where today we saw over 600 people injured, because they didn't like the judgment 21 death sentences handed down to people from Port Said who were involved in a football riot. So, that is a huge thing for [Morsi] to tackle, and that in itself is a huge problem for Egypt going forward."

And in an editorial today titled "Morsi plays Mubarak," Lebanon's Daily Star argues that demonstrators are not the only ones repeating history.  The Egyptian government's decision to instate curfews and a state of emergency were "as if Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood team around him could find nothing better to do than take a page from the Syrian playbook on how to deal with mass anger: Shoot first, and ask questions, maybe, later."

Instead of learning from the mistakes that have been committed in other countries in the region, the Egyptian authorities relied on the same old methods, such as demonizing the opposition as outlaws, terrorists or remnants of the old regime.

The outbreak of violence in Suez and Port Said was preceded by demonstrations in Cairo on the second anniversary of the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. But the Brotherhood is reminding everyone of the bad old days, when it opts to use repression and crackdowns to deal with public grievances. It’s no surprise that some people chanted, “Mursi equals Mubarak.”

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