Egypt F-16 fighter jets fly low over Cairo amid calls for protest


Egyptian F-16 fighter jets made low passes over the center of Cairo on Sunday in a rare maneuver by the air force over the capital amid high political tension, AFP news agency reported.

At the end of October, jets made similar passes as part of a surprise military exercise.

On Saturday, the army released a statement on political unrest that has killed seven people in the capital, urging supporters and opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Mursi to open talks to stop Egypt descending “into a dark tunnel with disastrous results”.

“That is something we will not allow,” it said.

The Egyptian opposition considered Sunday whether to maintain mass protests against Mursi after the Islamist leader announced a key concession in the political crisis dividing the country.

A Mursi aide said the president had agreed “from this moment” to give up expanded powers he assumed last month that gave him immunity from judicial oversight.

However, in a meeting with other political figures on Saturday, Mursi said he would still press ahead with a Dec. 15 referendum on a controversial new constitution drafted by a panel dominated by his Islamist allies.

Calls for protests started late on Saturday from opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shortly after the president’s decision to annul a controversial decree.

“We call on Egyptian youth to hold peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins in all of Egypt’s squares until our demands are met,” the National Salvation Front said, in a statement read to media by one of its leaders, Mohamed Abu al-Ghar.

“The will of the people is turning toward a general strike,” Abu al-Ghar added.

The Front’s statement called on Mursi to disband organized militias, to investigate clashes between rival camps that left seven dead and hundreds injured in Cairo on Wednesday and to denounce violence between protester camps.

It reiterated its two core demands that Mursi annul a Nov. 22 decree putting himself beyond judicial review and that he cancel a Dec. 15 referendum on the new constitution.

The Front said it “maintains its offer for serious and objective dialogue” conditioned on those demands.

The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, said it will organize human chains on Sunday to back up the dialogue’s results in front of its main headquarters in Mokattam, Cairo, according to Al Arabiya.

The protest calls follow Mursi’s decision on Saturday to annul a constitutional declaration he issued last month expanding his powers and that puts his decisions beyond judicial review.

However, the effects of that declaration would stand and a referendum on a draft constitution would still go ahead as planned on Dec.15, said Islamist politician Selim al-Awa.

“The constitutional decree is annulled from this moment,” al-Awa said, as he relayed the substance of a meeting between Mursi and political leaders.

The president was legally bound under the constitution to maintain that date and had no choice, al-Awa explained.

If the draft constitution were rejected, said al-Awa, a new one would be drawn up by officials elected by the people, rather than ones chosen by parliament as for the current text.

The draft constitution has been criticized for its potential to weaken human rights and the rights of women, and out of fear it would usher in Islamic interpretation of laws.

The two issues -- the decree and the referendum -- were at the heart of the anti-Mursi protests that turned violent this week with clashes on Wednesday that killed seven people and wounded hundreds.

The opposition rebuffed Mursi’s dialogue offer earlier on Thursday as long as those two decisions stood.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a focal point for hardcore protesters, news of the annulled decree sparked no festivities or exuberance.

Gamal Fahmi, member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, told Al Arabiya that those who took part in talk with Mursi represented themselves only, adding that the new constitutional declaration did not address the “fundamental” problem, which he said was in the assembly that was tasked to draft the constitution.

The April 6 Movement dismissed Mursi’s move, saying that he failed to address the constitution.

Tareq al-Khouli, a spokesman for the movement, told Al Arabiya,“ We need to draft the constitution which does not represent the Egyptians as a whole, but only the president and his group.”