Egypt's Morsi Expected to Impose Martial Law
by Edward Yeranian December 08, 2012
Egypt's top opposition leaders are boycotting a national dialogue meeting at the presidential palace Saturday, despite appeals by the country's military to resolve the current political standoff at the negotiating table. Meanwhile, Egyptian media warned that President Morsi would soon re-impose martial law.
An Egyptian military spokesman warned political leaders, in a statement read on state TV, that the country was "heading towards a dark tunnel," unless they sat down and solved their differences. "Dialogue," he said, "is the best and only way to reach consensus."
The military ruled the country following the ouster of former leader Hosni Mubarak in Feb. 2011, until Islamist Mohamed Morsi was elected president in June of this year. The army spokesman also indicated that the armed forces understand their duty to "protect vital public buildings and installations and the interests of [the people]."
Both state TV and the government-owned Al Ahram online warned that Morsi would soon issue a decree to reimpose martial law. Egypt had been under martial law for most of the period since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.
The president issued a constitutional decree several weeks ago giving him sweeping powers until the approval of a new draft constitution, set for a referendum on Dec. 15. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei called Morsi's refusal to compromise over that constitution "a disaster."
A rump committee of mostly Islamists approved the draft document in a marathon overnight session one week ago Friday. Secular, leftist and Christian members of the body pulled out before the document was approved, expressing anger over Islamist domination of the body.
Despite widespread public anger over the president's moves, life appeared to be mostly normal in the capital Saturday. Street vendors hawked bread, beans and tea along the broad and mostly empty expanse of Cairo's Tahrir Square, as popular protests diminished in intensity.
Several hundred demonstrators congregated behind a barrier of barbed wire and concrete blocks near the presidential palace, as well. Inside the building, a group of mostly Islamist leaders and one opposition figure met for talks with Morsi. Leaders of the main National Salvation Front boycotted the meeting.
Those leaders insist that they will not negotiate with the president until he revokes a decree giving himself sweeping powers and cancels the Dec. 15 referendum on the controversial new constitution. A referendum of Egyptians living abroad set for Saturday was postponed.
Ordinary citizens complained about the paralysis of daily life, and the slow-down of state services, including the judiciary, which remains on strike. One middle-aged man complained that opposition protesters were blocking Cairo's main administrative building.
He complained that he can't get into the building to go to work because the mostly young demonstrators have blocked off the entrance with barbed wire.
Meanwhile, Islamist leaders issued a statement Saturday, blasting the opposition for "violent protests" and "refusing to submit to the ballot box."
The spiritual guide, or murshid, of Egypt's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group gave a press conference Saturday, calling on opponents to cease their protests and hold talks:
He says that what's taking place is not opposition, nor a difference of opinion, but is rather-as he put it-corruption, tyranny and criminality. He blasted protesters for trying to topple the president, who he says was elected by the people, and urged the opposition to settle their conflict over the new constitution at the ballot box.
Opposition leaders, however, worry about fraud in the scheduled referendum. President Morsi has claimed in an interview with state TV that 80% of the people support the new constitution. The president, however, received just 51.7% of the vote in the June runoff presidential poll.
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