Egypt’s opposition movement shifted its strategy Wednesday, calling for a national dialogue to resolve the country’s ongoing political crisis days after it had rejected an almost identical invitation from embattled President Mohamed Morsi.
In another reversal, the National Salvation Front, a loose coalition of liberal and secular opposition leaders, held a meeting with the ultraconservative Islamist Nour party, a Salafist group considered far more extreme than Morsi and his Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood. The liberals had previously denounced the Salafists for espousing a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
“We found that the Nour party’s initiative has a specific agenda of work and issues that will be discussed,” El-Sayed el-Bedawi, head of the liberal al-Wafd party, said at a joint news conference of opposition leaders and Nour members to call for dialogue. He added that this “confirms that the Salvation Front does not refuse dialogue and cherishes the patriotism of the Nour party.”
The move came six days into a political crisis in which dozens have been killed and more than 1,000 injured in clashes between anti-government demonstrators and police in areas of the capital and three cities along Egypt’s vital Suez Canal.
Morsi could not bring an end to the violence despite deploying troops and imposing a 30-day state of emergency and curfew in the canal zone over the weekend. Protesters in the three cities in the Suez region defied the curfew with late-night marches and confrontations with the police. Morsi ultimately ceded responsibility for the curfew to provincial leaders, in a move that opposition groups viewed as a concession to the growing pressure in the streets.
Opposition leaders also criticized the president for flying to Germany in the midst of the crisis.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Morsi to lead Egypt out of the crisis through dialogue, while the Islamist leader reiterated his eagerness to speak with his opponents.
But many Egyptians also have grown critical of the opposition groups, questioning whether they are motivated by concern for the country or by the prospect of seizing some power from Morsi.
“We used to believe in ElBaradei and Sabahi,” said Ahmed Fathi, a tour guide, referring to two of the most prominent opposition figures, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi. “But now they’re all confused and conflicted.”
The latest conflict started last month as a struggle between the ruling Islamists and a predominantly liberal and secular opposition over the religious character of the country’s new constitution. Critics say the charter, which was approved in a national referendum last month, paves the way for a stricter implementation of Islamic law.
But after six days of clashes spurred by marches marking the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians are fed up with both sides.
“Everywhere we go, we can’t pass because there are clashes,” said Sahar Ahmed, a former hospital employee. “We don’t even know who is fighting whom anymore.”