CAIRO/BERLIN: Egyptian authorities scaled back a curfew imposed by President Mohammad Mursi, and the Islamist leader cut short a visit to Europe Wednesday to deal with the deadliest violence in the seven months since he took power.
Two more protesters were shot dead before dawn near Cairo’s central Tahrir Square Wednesday, a day after the army chief warned that the state was on the brink of collapse if Mursi’s opponents and supporters did not end street battles.
More than 50 people have been killed in the past seven days of protests by Mursi’s opponents marking the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Mursi imposed a curfew and a state of emergency on three Suez Canal cities Sunday – Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. That only seemed to further provoke crowds. However, violence has mostly subsided in those towns since Tuesday.
Local authorities pushed back the start of the curfew from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. in Ismailia and to 1 a.m. in Port Said and Suez. “There has been progress in the security situation since Monday. Calm has returned,” Suez Governor Samir Aglan said.
Mursi, speaking in Berlin before hurrying home to deal with the crisis, called for dialogue with opponents but would not commit to their demand that he first agree to include them in a unity government.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met Mursi, echoed other Western leaders who have called on him to give his opponents a voice.
“One thing that is important for us is that the line for dialogue is always open to all political forces in Egypt, that the different political forces can make their contribution, that human rights are adhered to in Egypt and that of course religious freedom can be experienced,” she said at a joint news conference with Mursi.
Mursi’s critics accuse him of betraying the spirit of the revolution by keeping too much power in his own hands and those of his Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement banned under Mubarak which won repeated elections since the 2011 uprising.
Near Cairo’s Tahrir Square Wednesday morning, dozens of protesters threw stones at police, who fired back tear gas, although the scuffles were brief.
Opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei called for a meeting of the president, ministers, the ruling party and the opposition to halt the violence. But he also restated the precondition that Mursi first commit to seeking a national unity government.
The worst violence has been in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, where rage was fueled by death sentences passed against football fans for roles in deadly riots last year.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said ahead of Mursi’s visit that the remarks, in which Mursi referred to Zionists as “descendants of apes and pigs” were “unacceptable.”
Asked about those remarks at the news conference with Merkel, Mursi repeated earlier explanations that they had been taken out of context.
“I am not against the Jewish faith,” he said. “I was talking about the practices and behavior of believers of any religion who shed blood or who attack innocent people or civilians. That’s behavior that I condemn.”
“I am a Muslim. I’m a believer, and my religion obliges me to believe in all prophets, to respect all religions and to respect the right of people to their own faith,” he added.
Egypt’s main liberal and secularist bloc, the National Salvation Front, has so far refused talks with Mursi unless he promises a unity government including opposition figures.
“Stopping the violence is the priority, and starting a serious dialogue requires committing to guarantees demanded by the National Salvation Front, at the forefront of which are a national salvation government and a committee to amend the constitution,” ElBaradei said on Twitter.
Those calls have also been backed by the hard-line Islamist Nour party – rivals of the Brotherhood.