Middle East

Egypt: Betrayed but not broken

Egyptians shout slogans during anti-President Mohammed Morsi protest in front of the presidential palace in Cairo
Image caption People took the streets again on Friday in Cairo, the traditional day of protest

On chilly, rain-soaked streets, activists turned out for a peaceful march to al-Ittihadiya, the presidential palace in Cairo's well-off Heliopolis district.

"Step down, step down, Muslim Brotherhood!" and "Freedom is for us and for you!" were among the chants.

Some carried placards showing a red cross through the face of President Mohammed Morsi.

Meanwhile, in Tahrir Square, the scene of renewed clashes between protesters and police over the past week, numbers swelled to several thousand after Friday prayers.

Rallies against Mr Morsi also took place in cities along the Suez Canal where he imposed emergency measures to try to halt recent violence. Demonstrators carried pictures of young men killed in the fighting.

More than 60 people died in the latest wave of unrest that added to the sense of a deep crisis in Egypt.

The numbers at the latest demonstrations were lower than expected and greatly diminished from those seen two years ago, at the height of the Egyptian uprising.

However, they were another expression of the anger and disappointment that many Egyptians feel over the performance of their new Islamist leader who narrowly won last June's presidential election.

'New authoritarianism'

Mr Morsi's critics accuse him of betraying the values of the 2011 revolt and imposing a new brand of authoritarianism that concentrates power in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, the religious organisation from which he stems.

Image caption Protesters say they want to purge the country's judiciary and interior ministry

The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), demands a national unity government and amendments to the new Islamist-tinged constitution. Revolutionary groups also call for reforms.

"We're not for or against Morsi. He just hasn't fulfilled his electoral promises," says Mohammed Adel, a leader of the 6 April Youth Movement which helped organise the latest protests.

"We want the constitution to be changed, we want the judiciary and interior ministry to be cleansed and we want violence by the state to stop."

The president's supporters argue that his detractors refuse to accept the results of a free and fair election and are trying to seize power through the street.

Mr Morsi has not ruled out a committee to re-examine the rushed new constitution but says a new government will be decided after parliamentary elections in a few months.

"After the elections we will have a parliament chosen by the people. It is the duty of parliament to make a new government," he told journalists on Wednesday.

Al-Azhar agreement

This week brought a stern warning from the head of the military that continuing political strife could cause the collapse of the state.

Afterwards, Egypt's Grand Imam summoned rival political factions, youth groups and church officials to the headquarters of al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old institution that is the top seat of Sunni Islam.

They agreed to sign up to a charter condemning violence and committed to dialogue as a way to end the crisis.

It prompted the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohammed ElBaradei, a leader of the NSF, to speak of his "optimism" while the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Saad el-Katatni, declared it "a historic day".

The agreement appeared to help take away the impetus for further mass protests on what activists had called "The Friday of Salvation".

A lot of Egyptians are also weary of demonstrations or are worried about their personal safety.

Egypt on edge

The economy was already teetering before the latest turmoil. Tourism and foreign investment have fallen dramatically. The central bank has been forced to drain currency reserves to prop up the Egyptian pound.

"The country is going down. It's worse now than under the old president," said one man observing protesters at the entrance to Tahrir Square.

Another bystander chimed in: "[The former president, Hosni] Mubarak was lousy and he was a thief but at least we had security and we were living".

Parts of central Cairo have become no-go areas for many ordinary people with reports of a spike in sexual assaults and increased crime and lawlessness.

The Nile-side luxury hotel, the Semiramis InterContinental, has been closed after masked men looted it early on Tuesday, terrifying guests.

"This is a disaster," said small businessman, Gamal.

"I have loans that I can't repay. We need tourism to come back, we need the economy to come back and we need a strong leader who can make the right decisions."