A small number of protesters clashed with police inCairo today after violent clashes and rioting last night, when rioters broke into the lobby of a luxury hotel and protesters commandeered and burned a police van. Violence and protests continued in other cities across Egypt, including the Suez Canal cities where the president declared a state of emergency and a curfew. Thousands of people broke the curfew by protesting on the streets in Ismailia, Suez, and Port Said last night.
President Mohamed Morsi has been unable to reestablish order since the violence began on Jan. 25, the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. He began talks dubbed a national dialogue last night, but leading opposition parties and movements declined to attend, saying the talks were not serious. Even if they did, it’s not clear that would stop the protesters and rioters on the street, who don’t appear to be driven by political parties or movements. But the group reportedly agreed to form a committee to amend the constitution, one of the demands of the opposition.
Near Tahrir Square, tear gas stung the air and loud booms echoed as protesters battled the police around international luxury hotels. “We won’t stop until Morsi steps down,” says protester Ibrahim Ezzat, dismissing the national dialogue. “Morsi will say sweet words and do nothing.”
He also dismissed most opposition politicians. “We are here in the street. Where are they?” he asks.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, head of the Army and also defense minister, issued his warning in an address to military cadets, which was posted on the Army’s Facebook page today.
He said challenges facing Egypt were “a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the state,” and said the Army would be “the solid and cohesive block” on which the state rests. “The continuation of the conflict between the different political forces and their differences over how the country should be run could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations,” he said.
The military tried hard to preserve the privileges and political influence it enjoyed under formerPresident Hosni Mubarak. But it has appeared reluctant to step back into the political fray since it handed over power to Egypt’s first elected president. However, yesterday Egypt’s upper house of parliament approved a law giving the military arrest powers.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s prosecutor has ordered police to arrest members of the so-called Black Bloc, a mysterious group of protesters who wear black masks and apparently model themselves after anarchist groups in the United States and Europe. An official in the public prosecutor’s office says the group is carrying out “terrorist activities,” according to Egypt’s state news service.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its political party have seized on the group as an example of the violence and thuggishness of the protests against the president and accused the group of violent attacks.
A video posted online last week announcing the group’s formation says it formed to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood’s “military wing” and seeks to topple the “tyrant.” Youths wearing black masks have appeared in recent protests, but with street vendors doing brisk business selling the black ski masks in Tahrir Square, it is unclear who is a member of the group.