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Egypt liberals, Islamists add pressure on Morsi

Wednesday - 1/30/2013, 4:08pm  ET

An Egyptian protester throws stones at riot police, not seen, during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. Egypt's liberal opposition leader called for a broad national dialogue with the Islamist government, all political factions and the powerful military on Wednesday, aimed at stopping the country's eruption of political violence that has left scores dead in the past week. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- 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 month-long 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.

"What is happening now in Egypt is natural in nations experiencing a shift to democracy," Morsi told reporters during a brief visit to Germany on Wednesday. "Nations take time to stabilize and in some countries that took many years. It has only been two years in Egypt and, God willing, things will stabilize soon."

The unrest at home forced Morsi to truncate a planned visit to Europe, cancelling a Paris leg and reducing his Berlin visit to a few hours to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, after which he was returning home.

Al-Nour and the Front make odd partners. Salafis in general have strongly backed Morsi in the crisis and regularly denounced the liberal and secular opposition, accusing them of trying to reverse Islamists' election victories and of trying to prevent Egypt from being ruled by Shariah, or Islamic law. The party's move may be aimed at distancing itself from Morsi's Brotherhood ahead of the parliament elections.

After meeting with leaders from the Front, al-Nour chief Younis Makhyoun said, "We are considered Islamists, and we are from the Islamic current but when we work for the sake of national reconciliation, we have to be neutral ... Egypt for all Egyptians."

Egypt must not be ruled "by a single faction... but there must be a real partnership in decision-making and administration," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, two more protesters were killed Wednesday when they were hit with birdshot during clashes with police near Cairo's Tahrir Square, a security official said, as violence continued for the seventh day. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Violence has spiraled after first erupting in Cairo on eve of last Friday's second anniversary of the uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. It since spread around the country, with the worst violence in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, which has virtually declared itself in revolt against Morsi's government. Nile Delta provinces have also witnessed street clashes and riots in front of state institutions, but no deaths reported.

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