Egyptian opposition leader calls for dialogue on violence

Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 00:00

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei yesterday called for a meeting between the president, the army chief, key ministers, fundamentalist factions and the opposition to address the violence in which up to 60 people have died in the past week and initiate "serious dialogue".

This call appeared to reverse his earlier rejection of talks with President Mohamed Morsi until three conditions were met. These were Mr Morsi's acceptance of responsibility for the ongoing unrest; the formation of a government of national salvation; and the establishment of a balanced committee to amend the fundamentalist-drafted constitution.

Mr ElBaradei, who heads the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, issued his appeal 24 hours after army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Egypt's existence was being threatened by political polarisation and increasingly violent protests.

Although Mr Morsi has ignored the front's first two conditions, he has agreed to appoint a committee that includes five law professors and five figures representing Egypt's major political forces to amend controversial articles in the constitution.

This offer, however, may be too little too late. Mr Morsi retains control through both the power of appointment and the likelihood that he could choose a majority of fundamentalist political figures. The original constitutional commission was selected by Muslim Brotherhood representatives in the lower house and was dominated by fundamentalists, prompting secular members to withdraw.

In another move to placate a public angry over the imposition of martial law and curfew in volatile Suez Canal cities, Mr Morsi has granted provincial governors the authority to cancel or amend the overnight curfew, which has been largely ignored by defiant protesters.

Dozens killed

On Saturday, dozens were killed in protests in Port Said after 21 local football fans were sentenced to death for their role in a match riot a year ago. Subsequent deaths occurred during funerals.

During a sixth day of protests around Cairo's Tahrir Square two men were shot dead, bringing to three the number of fatalities in the capital since violence erupted last Friday on the second anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

While Mr Morsi was forced to cut short a European tour, he was warned in Berlin that future EU aid depended on a transition to democracy and restoration of security.