An ultraconservative Islamist adviser to Egypt's president resigned Monday in solidarity with a fellow aide who was fired amid allegations of abuse of office.
The resignation of Bassam Zarka, who is a member of the Salafi al-Nour party, is the latest sign of tension between President Mohammed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist ally ahead of parliamentary elections expected in the months ahead.
The public disagreement comes as the country's Supreme Constitutional court rejected an election law presented to it by the Islamist-dominated parliament, and asked for a number of articles to be amended, a move that could delay the vote and prolong an already tense political atmosphere.
No date has been set for the elections yet. Mursi and the Brotherhood see the vote as a way to restore stability as the country reels under growing economic problems and increasingly volatile social discontent.
Al-Nour, which emerged from obscurity to win the second largest bloc of votes in Egypt's parliamentary elections in 2011 - just behind the Brotherhood-led bloc - has joined voices critical of Mursi and the Brotherhood for what it describes as their attempt to monopolize power.
Some of its members have accused Mursi, in office for over seven months, of failing to reach a compromise with the vocal liberal and secular opposition, heightening tensions that manifested themselves in violent street protests and a heavy-handed crackdown on dissent.
Al-Nour has denied the charges against Khaled Alam Eldin, adviser to the president for environmental affairs. When a presidential aide refused to issue an apology, Bassam Zarka, another presidential adviser and member of the Salafi party resigned in protest.
As Zarka resigned at a news conference broadcast live on television on Monday, Alam Eldin broke down in tears, denying he had abused his office. He called his dismissal “political” and said he was offended by how he was informed of an investigation into his tenure.
“I will accept nothing less than an apology from the president,” Alam Eldin said, reaching out for a handkerchief from the podium. “This is a stab ... I am amazed at those who in cold blood and for political reasons don't care about who they hurt.”
Alam Eldin's tears followed an announcement from his party's spokesman that an apology is imminent. But the president's legal adviser, Mohammed Fouad Gadallah said there was no reason for an apology.
“Apologize for what?” he told the station during the conference. “There are accusations that turned into evidence, and an investigation which proves that one of his team has committed crimes.” The dismissal was to ward off smearing the presidency, he added.
In an angry reaction, Al-Nour's spokesman Nader Bakkar wrote on his Twitter account that Mursi himself should consider resigning “since some of his subordinates are suspected of intentionally killing protesters.”
Signs of a rift between the Salafi Al-Nour and the Brotherhood have been surfacing in the past weeks, including a public spat over credit for who organized a reconciliation meeting with liberal opposition figures. Competition between the various Islamist parties is expected to be fierce in the upcoming elections.
Later Monday, the Supreme Constitutional Court, which is meant to review draft laws before they are adopted into law, ruled that at least 10 articles in the election law were unconstitutional, and resent it to the legislature to amend them.
The ruling includes calling on parliament to redraw electoral districts in a more representative, “less arbitrary” manner. The redrawing was one of the main demands of the opposition, which had threatened to boycott elections if the law was not amended.
Saad Emara, a legislator from the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said the parliament will observe the recommendations of the court, suggesting the body will work fast to ensure elections are not delayed. The election date is expected to be announced soon.
“We had expected this and experts have already begun work” on redrawing districts, Emara said. He said districts may be merged and the number of parliament seats may be expanded.
Bahey Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said concerns over gerrymandering by the powerful Islamist group which dominates the parliament will likely mar the discussions in the coming weeks. He described the concerns as the latest test for the Islamist-led regime.
“The debate will be over which district to merge ... because redrawing the districts will have political consequences,” he said, adding that this could lead to a delay in holding the vote and open the door to possible legal challenges after the polls if it remains contested.
Meanwhile, in an escalation of street turmoil in the restive coastal city of Port Said, hundreds of protesters blocked central roads and enforced a work stoppage in some government and port customs offices for the second straight day. They demanded retribution and a new investigation into the death of scores of people during anti-government protests in the strategic Suez Canal city last month.
The strike did not disrupt shipping in the Canal, but it has raised pressure on Mursi's government to do something to resolve it. In an attempt to assuage the situation, local Governor Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abdullah said the state would increase the amount of compensation it would pay for those killed in the violence, and that the central government had promised a new investigation.