Egypt’s president tonight declared a 30-day state of emergency and night curfew in the three Suez Canal provinces hit hardest by the wave of violence that has left more than 50 dead in three days.
Angry and almost screaming, Mohammed Morsi vowed in a televised address that he would not hesitate to take even more action to stem the latest eruption of violence across much of the country.
But at the same time, he sought to reassure Egyptians that his latest moves would not plunge the country back into authoritarianism.
“There is no going back on freedom, democracy and the supremacy of the law,” he said.
The three provinces are Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez and the curfew, also for a month, is effective 9pm to 6am.
The worst violence this weekend was in the Mediterranean coastal city of Port Said, where at least 44 people died in two days of clashes there that began on Saturday. The spark was a court conviction and death sentence for 21 defendants involved in a mass soccer riot in the city’s main stadium on February 1, 2012 that left 74 dead.
Most of those sentenced to death were local soccer fans from Port Said, deepening a sense of persecution that Port Said’s residents have felt since the stadium disaster, the worst soccer violence ever in Egypt.
At least another 11 died on Friday elsewhere in the country during rallies marking the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. Protesters used the occasion to renounce Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged as the country’s most dominant political force after Mubarak’s ouster.
Morsi, in office since June, also invited the nation’s political forces to a dialogue starting tomorrow to resolve the country’s latest crisis.
The predominantly secular and liberal opposition has in the past declined Morsi’s offers of dialogue, arguing that he must first show a political will to meet some of its demands.
There was no official reaction to Morsi’s moves by the National Salvation Front, an umbrella for the main opposition parties. Some opposition figures, however, told TV talk shows that they would take part in the dialogue but only if it is run by independent third parties and if they receive assurances that its outcome would be binding on everyone.
Morsi did not say what he plans to do to stem the violence in other parts of the country, but he pointed out that he had instructed the police to deal “firmly and forcefully” with individuals attacking state institutions, using firearms to “terrorise” citizens or blocking roads and railway lines.
There were also clashes today in Cairo and several cities in the Nile Delta region, including the industrial city of Mahallah.