Egypt’s rulers in peril with growing violence

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CAIRO — Egypt’s security deteriorated sharply Tuesday as violent clashes in Cairo and elsewhere raised questions about the ruling Islamist party’s control of the country, which the army chief said is in danger of collapse.

In Cairo, a mob ransacked the five-star Semiramis Hotel, while thousands of mourners in a funeral procession for six slain protesters in Port Said called for the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

At least 60 people have died in clashes since Friday, while thousands of protesters defied a curfew Monday night, leading to concerns about the Brotherhood’s control of the situation. In the two years since the start of the Arab Spring revolution that ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, political unrest has heightened, the economy has turned sharply downward and tourism has waned significantly.

“The continuing conflict between political forces and their differences concerning the management of the country could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations,” Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who also heads the army, said in a Facebook post.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration is “closely monitoring” developments in Egypt — a posture critics say has helped transform the Arab Spring into a bloody and chaotic Arab winter.

Mr. Obama has resisted calls by Republicans in Congress to delay military aid to Egypt as leverage for democratic reforms.

James Phillips, a senior fellow on Middle Eastern affairs at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Morsi is playing the Obama administration, accepting U.S. aid while ignoring calls to improve his country’s human rights record.

Mr. Phillips said the Obama administration’s policy in Egypt is “potentially disastrous” because it rests on the Muslim Brotherhood behaving “like a genuinely democratic political party.” He also said the developments in Egypt are linked to the expansion of Islamist extremism in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

During an appearance on “60 Minutes” Sunday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama boasted about his policy results there.

“You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there,” said Mr. Obama, who behind the scenes actively supported Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Lawrence Korb, a national security analyst at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress and a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, said Mr. Obama has no choice but to try to work with Mr. Morsi.

“Once they got rid of Mubarak and had an election, he was the person, for better or worse,” Mr. Korb said. “We have followed the right path. [Mr. Morsi] was legitimately elected. We have continued aid, but we’ve said, ‘If you abuse your population in any way, we’ll cut it off.’”

Mr. Korb pointed to Mr. Morsi’s role in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel last year as evidence that Mr. Obama’s approach is the correct one.

Some Republican lawmakers have urged Mr. Obama to suspend military aid, citing for starters an episode last spring in which the Egyptian government brought charges against foreign aid workers there, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and five other Americans.

Those calls intensified after Egyptians attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in September, while terrorists were attacking a U.S. compound in Libya and killing four Americans.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the administration this month to delay the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Mr. Morsi’s government “until Egypt can establish a democratic parliament and ensure stability and peace for its people and the region.”

“President Morsi has failed to promote promised democracy in his country and neglected to continue Egypt’s legacy of maintaining peace in the region,” Mr. Inhofe said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which won the majority of parliamentary seats and the presidency in last year’s elections, “is seen as responsible” for the country’s economic failures, said Eric Trager, a Cairo-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noting that its political party “rammed through a constitution” that was written in an Islamist-dominated forum.

“The onus is on the Muslim Brotherhood to reverse course change their modus operandi and start governing more inclusively,” he said.

Mr. Morsi has called for national dialogue with the umbrella opposition group, the National Salvation Front. But NSF leader and Nobel laureate Mohamed El Baradei and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi have brushed off his overtures.

“While the NSF reconfirms its belief that dialogue is the only way out of a crisis that threatens the nation, it however refuses to participate another time in dialogues that can only be described as ‘photo opportunities,’” the opposition group said in a statement.

The group’s list of demands includes forming a new government, amending the constitution, revoking November’s constitutional decree that increased Mr. Morsi’s power, and establishing the Brotherhood as an official body so it can be subject to oversight.

Two more funerals were held in Port Said on Tuesday, drawing thousands of marchers chanting “Down, down with the rule of the Guide,” a reference to the title of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader.

“God wreak vengeance on Morsi, who gave the orders to shoot at the protesters of Port Said,” Ayman Mohammed Abdel-Fatah told reporters in Port Said as he held a picture of a relative whom he said was shot four times.

Some mourners said Mr. Morsi’s order last week to shoot protesters brought disgrace upon Islamists and traditional religious practice.

Tarek Osman, author of “Egypt on the Brink,” said he was “not sure the Muslim Brotherhood has cemented its grasp over power.”

“What we have is a president who has belonged to the [Brotherhood] and a transition government in which the Brotherhood features heavily, but the group has not yet taken full ownership — or responsibility — over the executive authority in the country,” he said.

Mr. Trager urged U.S. officials to use Egypt’s request for $4.8 billion in International Monetary Fund loans as leverage in trying to deal with worsening situation in the North African country.

U.S. officials should explain that Cairo “cannot realistically prevent violent, destabilizing protests without a serious policy for resuscitating the failing economy, attracting investments, and spurring job creation,” he said.

But Sahar Aziz, president of the Egyptian-American Rule of Law Association, said the U.S. should not inject itself into the situation.

“This is an internal conflict between Egyptians. These are the growing pains of a new democracy. There comes a point where stepping back is in our best interests,” Ms. Aziz said.

Mr. Carney told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One that Egyptians need to pursue a peaceful process to quell the current unrest.

“This democratic process must adhere to the rights of all Egyptians. And we look to the government of Egypt to ensure that the people’s right to due process is protected,” he said.

• Dave Boyer reported from Washington. Nahla Samaha in Cairo and Shaun Waterman in Washington contributed to this report.

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