TAREK EL-TABLAWY — Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s government said on Tuesday it was committed to freedom after charges of police brutality threatened to fuel new violence in a nation that has yet to see calm two years after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.
Mr Mursi, already weighed down by criticism from an opposition that has dubbed his seven months in office a failure, met on Tuesday with top security officials and stressed the need to respect human rights. His premier, in remarks broadcast nationwide, vowed there would be "no return to repression" and urged citizens to stop watching inflammatory coverage of protests and to get back to work.
Egypt’s secular and youth activist critics contend Mr Mursi is giving authorities free rein to suppress protests and have rejected calls for a national dialogue until conditions such as a national unity government are met. His opponents accuse Mr Mursi of failing to revive the economy and restore security, and say he is selling out the nation’s broader interests to bolster the influence of his Muslim Brotherhood backers.
There was "no return to human rights violations", Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said on Tuesday. "This is not the preference of the government or the head of government or the president of the republic. This is the right of the Egyptian people whose sons sacrificed their lives" in the revolt against Mubarak.
Even as officials sought to defuse days of tension that gained new momentum with a video of a man stripped naked and beaten by police in front of Mr Mursi’s palace, fresh violence erupted north of the capital and the culture minister submitted his resignation, the state-run Ahram Online reported. One man was killed overnight. It cited an unidentified official as saying he decided to resign because he was dismayed over the alleged beating of Hamada Saber that was captured on film.
The protests in Tanta late on Monday followed the funeral of an activist whose colleagues claim was killed by police while in custody. Protesters tried to storm the local police station and other government buildings in clashes that left at least seven wounded, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
The outbreak of fighting in the city is the kind of unrest that has kept the country’s economy limping at the slowest pace in two decades since the uprising. Foreign reserves are down by almost 60% and the Egyptian pound weakened to record lows after the central bank introduced a foreign currency auction to limit the drain on reserves.
Already simmering tensions since Mr Mursi’s election in June boiled over after the January 25 anniversary of the revolution as protesters in Port Said demonstrated against death sentences handed down by a Cairo court over a stadium riot last year that left more than 70 dead. That violence prompted Mr Mursi to enact temporary emergency measures in three Suez Canal provinces, triggering further fighting. In all, at least 50 people were killed — many from gunshot wounds. Almost 600 police were injured, officials said.
The president, Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian leader, has stressed authorities will deal with lawlessness firmly while pledging to also uphold the right of peaceful protest.
The assurances contrasted with the video showing a group of riot police striking Mr Saber amid clashes with protesters who hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at the palace in the capital on February 1. Adding to the doubts about the government’s commitment to transparency was Mr Saber’s initial claim the police were protecting him — remarks he later recanted. The incident — after the Muslim Brotherhood and its rivals signed a deal to renounce the violence — was seen by activists and the opposition as an example of Mr Mursi’s disdain for the revolution.
Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt on Tuesday on the first trip by an Iranian head of state since the 1979 revolution, underlining the thaw in relations since Egyptians elected an Islamist head of state.
Visiting Cairo to attend an Islamic summit that begins on Wednesday, the president of the Shiite Islamist republic met the grand sheikh of al-Azhar, one of the oldest seats of learning in the Sunni world. Such a visit would have been unthinkable two years ago.
Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb told Mr Ahmadinejad the country must give full rights to Sunnis living in Iran and refrain from interfering in the affairs of Gulf Arab states.