Thousands demonstrate in Egypt against Mursi

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Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in several cities on Friday to demonstrate against President Mohammed Mursi, while opposition groups slammed his decision to call for parliamentary elections on April 27.

In Port Said hundreds demonstrators called for justice for protesters killed by Egyptian police, as a strike in the Suez Canal city entered its sixth day.

Protesters chanted against President Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, while slamming the interior ministry it accuses of having killed at least 40 people in clashes with police last month.

Most factories and government offices were closed during the week, witnesses said, and expected to stay shut after the Muslim weekend of Friday-Saturday.

There were also scattered protests in Alexandria, while a demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was muted as a sandstorm enveloped the capital.

Like the fractious opposition, the demonstrators had widely varying demands. Some called on Mursi to step down while others pressed for the military, which long backed Mubarak and his predecessors, to step back in to run Egypt.

The National Salvation Front (NSF), which groups a number of parties opposed to the Islamists, said it would hammer out its stand on the elections.

“We will meet early next week to decide on whether we will boycott or go ahead with elections. But as you can see, the opposition overall is upset over this unilateral decision on part of the presidency. This was a rushed decision,” Khaled Dawood, spokesman of the NSF, said.

Dawood said Egypt should have other priorities such as changing the controversial new constitution produced last year by an assembly dominated by Islamists. “Solve these issues first then talk about elections,” added Dawood.

While the opposition can agree on attacking Mursi, previous boycott threats have fizzled out. It remains fractured and disorganized, unlike the well-financed and efficient Islamist election machines which have triumphed in votes for the presidency and parliament.

“We face a difficult political decision and time is running out. The opposition faces a test of its ability to remain united,” said Amr Hamzawy, a professor of politics at Cairo University and former liberal lawmaker.

Islamist parties and groups welcomed the new elections and dismissed the boycott threat.

“Elections are the only way out of the crisis. The people must be able to choose those they see fit. The majority of political forces will not boycott the elections,” said Tarekal-Zumor of the Building and Development Party.

Essam Erian, member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ruling Freedom and Justice Party, said parliament would unite Egypt’s political life.

“The coming parliament will hold a variety of national voices: Islamist, conservative, liberal and leftist. Everyone realizes the importance of the coming period and withholding one’s vote is a big mistake,” Erian said on his Facebook page.

Islamists are likely to form coalitions and dominate the new parliament as they did the previous short-lived lower house, which was dissolved after the Constitutional Court struck down the law used to elect it.

Voting is held in stages due to a shortage of election monitors and Mursi’s choice of dates upset some in the Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the population.

Al-Kalema, a Christian Coptic group, criticized the presidency for setting the first round to fall on the community’s Easter religious holiday. “This is total negligence of the Coptic community but an intentional move to exclude them from political life,” al-Kalema said in a statement.

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