CAIRO – A hardline Islamist party normally allied to Egypt’s president joined the liberal opposition on Wednesday in calling for a national unity government as part of a plan aimed at ending the eruption of political violence that has shaken the country and left more than 60 dead the past week.
The unusual joint call puts further pressure on Islamist President Mohammed Morsi a day after the head of the armed forces warned that Egypt could collapse unless the country’s feuding political factions reconcile.
The warning by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was to both sides but was seen as an implicit criticism of Morsi, who has been unable to contain the unrest through an attempted firm hand. Morsi’s declaration of a monthlong state of emergency and a curfew in three of the cities hardest hit by unrest has been overtly defied by the cities’ residents.
Seeking to build momentum from the military’s comments, Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the main liberal opposition National Salvation Front, called on Wednesday for a broad national dialogue grouping Morsi’s government, the Muslim Brotherhood, the ultraconservative Salafis and – in a nod to the generals’ role – the military.
The opposition has depicted the mayhem as a backlash against Islamists’ insistence on monopolizing power and as evidence that the Brotherhood and its allies are unable to manage the country on their own.
The past week has seen protester attacks on police stations and government buildings, fierce clashes with security forces, shootings at protester funerals, cut-offs of railroads, mass marches and a virtual outright revolt in the Suez Canal city of Port Said.
Officials in the president’s office and the Brotherhood, in turn, have accused the opposition of condoning or even instigating violence in a bid to thwart Islamists’ repeated election victories.
Morsi has invited the opposition to a dialogue, but the Front and most other parties refused, seeing his talks as window-dressing.
On Wednesday, the Salafi al-Nour Party joined the Salvation Front in an initiative calling for a national unity government – effectively eroding the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on decision-making – and for the amending of contentious articles of the Islamist-backed constitution.
For weeks, Morsi and the Brotherhood have ignored the Front’s repeated calls for a unity government. On Wednesday, Morsi dismissed the need for one, pointing out that a new government would be formed anyway after parliament elections expected in a few months. He downplayed the significance of the explosion of violence.