‘Things falling apart?’ Mursi loses more advisers over crisis

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Three members of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's advisory team said on Wednesday they had resigned over the crisis ignited by a decree that expanded his powers.

Seif Abdel Fattah, Ayman al-Sayyad and Amr al-Leithy all tendered their resignations, bringing to six the number of presidential staff who have quit in the wake of a decree that has triggered countrywide violence.

The previously announced resignations included a Christian and a woman. They were part of a presidential staff assembled by Mursi, an Islamist, in an effort to build an inclusive administration.

Speaking to Reuters, Leithy said he had submitted his resignation following the Nov. 22 decree.

He said neither he, Sayyad or Abdel Fattah - all political independents - had been consulted on the decree. But they had not made their resignations public as they tried to help resolve the crisis.

In an effort to end the turmoil, Mursi has called a Dec. 15 referendum on a draft constitution that will override the decree. The opposition want the referendum postponed.

“I today urge the president to cancel the constitutional decree and to postpone the referendum on the constitution and to open an immediate national dialogue with all the political forces to produce a consensus constitution,” he said.

Brotherhood calls protesters to leave

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called on Islamists and opponents clashing on Wednesday to withdraw from near the presidential palace and pledge not to return.

Mahmud Ghozlan told AFP the protesters “should withdraw at the same time and pledge not to return there given the symbolism of the palace.”

He said the Brotherhood, which turned out to support Mursi against opposition protesters, was not in touch with its opponents and it was up to security forces to mediate the resolution.

In the same vain, bloodied protesters were seen carried away as gunshots could be heard and the rivals torched cars and set off fire crackers near the presidential palace, where opponents of Mursi had set up tents before his supporters drove them away.

Riot police were eventually sent in to break up the violence, but clashes were still taking place in side streets near the palace in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis.

The health ministry said 211 people had been injured so far.

The violence spread beyond the capital, with protesters torching the offices of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood in the Mediterranean port city of Ismailiya and in Suez, witnesses said.

As scattered clashes carried on into the night, the Brotherhood urged protesters on both sides to withdraw, as did Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.

The Brotherhood’s Mahmoud Ghozlan told AFP the protesters “should withdraw at the same time and pledge not to return there given the symbolism of the palace.”

Earlier, the prestigious Islamic institution Al-Azhar, based in Cairo, called for restraint and dialogue, as did the United States and Britain.

“It’s a civil war that will burn all of us,” said Ahmed Fahmy, 27, as the clashes raged behind him.

“This is a failure of a president. He is waging war against his own people,” 56-year-old Khaled Ahmed told AFP near the palace.

“They (Islamists) attacked us, broke up our tents, and I was beaten up,” said Eman Ahmed, 47. “They accused us of being traitors.”

Activists among the Islamist marchers harassed television news crews, trying to prevent them from working, AFP reporters said.

Wael Ali, a 40-year-old Mursi supporter with a long beard, said “I’m here to defend democracy. The president was elected by the ballot box.”

At the heart of the dispute is a decree by Mursi, in which he took on sweeping powers, and the hasty subsequent adoption of a draft constitution in a process boycotted by liberals and Christians.

But despite the protests prompted by the decree two weeks ago, Vice President Mahmud Mekki said a referendum on the charter “will go ahead on time” as planned on December 15.

The opposition would be allowed to put any objections they have to articles of the draft constitution in writing, to be discussed by a parliament yet to be elected.

“There is a real political will to respond to the demands of the opposition,” Mekki said.