Egypt braces for more protests on Friday after a public address by President Mohamed Morsi angered the opposition. After days of demonstrations and violent protest, Morsi appeared in a televised speech inviting all major political factions to a meeting on Saturday. Morsi vowed to proceed with a referendum, scheduled for December 15, on a controversial Islamist-backed draft constitution. The opposition National Salvation Front movement felt Morsi didn't make sufficient concessions, and many opposition members say they will not enter into talks until Morsi rescinds his new powers declared on November 22 exempting him from judicial review. Violent protests outside the presidential palace were broken up by Egypt's Republican Guard on Thursday, and Morsi supporters withdrew. However, the number of opposition protesters has grown, and Morsi's speech was quickly followed by violence. Late Thursday night the Cairo offices of the Muslim Brotherhood were attacked and set on fire. In his speech, Morsi blamed "hidden hands" for recent unrest, accusing remnants from the Hosni Mubarak regime and outside infiltrators for driving violence. According to Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, "The really unfortunate side effect of the last two weeks is the political atmosphere has become really toxic. I fear that could endure long past the current crisis."
The Syrian army has reinforced its position outside Damascus in efforts to counter recent opposition gains, as opposition fighters warn travelers that the Damascus International Airport is a "fair target." Fighting around Syria's capital has intensified over the past week, and human rights organizations say the death toll in the 20-month conflict has reached 42,000. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad is increasing, and that events on the ground are accelerating. Rami Abdelrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces are withdrawing from a variety of areas, but maintained that talk of an endgame is premature. The Syrian army has been bringing in reinforcements to strengthen positions in two southwestern suburbs close to the Mezzeh military airport. Troops are concentrated at the Damascus international airport as opposition fighters have been battling for the surrounding area. The opposition warned civilians and airlines that they would be approaching the airport "at their own risk," thereby declaring it a battle zone. Foreign airlines have suspended all flights to Damascus, and only some Syrian Air flights have gone in and out of the airport in the past few days. Meanwhile, Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and U.N. and Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met on Thursday to discuss a political transition for Syria. The Russians have backed Assad as concerns escalate over the prospect of chemical weapons use by the regime. However, they have agreed to pursue "some new, fresh ideas."
- Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has arrived for the first time in Gaza, likely emboldened by what the militant group deemed a victory in a recent eight-day conflict with Israel.
- The Lebanese army has entered Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli after violent clashes between rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in a spillover from the Syrian conflict.
Arguments and Analysis
End the war on terror and save billions (Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post)
"As we debate whether the two parties can ever come together and get things done, here's something President Obama could probably do by himself that would be a signal accomplishment of his presidency: End the war on terror. Or, more realistically, start planning and preparing the country for phasing it out.
For 11 years, the United States has been operating under emergency wartime powers granted under the 2001 "Authorization for Use of Military Force." That is a longer period than the country spent fighting the Civil War, World War I and World War II combined. It grants the president and the federal government extraordinary authorities at home and abroad, effectively suspends civil liberties for anyone the government deems an enemy and keeps us on a permanent war footing in all kinds of ways."
Five Notes on Egypt's Crisis (Joshua Stacher, Middle East Research and Information Project)
"Hani Shukrallah, the distinguished former editor of al-Ahram Weekly, laments the "decline and fall" of the Society of Muslim Brothers from a partner in a diverse Egyptian nation to a narrowly partisan faction willing to beat up opponents, "the very caricature of itself as painted for years by its bitterest enemies."
Amidst street battles over Muhammad Mursi's decree and Egypt's draft constitution, the Brothers have indeed argued a familiar authoritarian line: The protesters have no valid claims; they are a small troublemaking minority; they wish to disregard electoral results and plunge the country into chaos. Some of the Brothers and their backers have been portraying the protesters as nothing but Mubarak-era "remnants" (fuloul), an empty charge if ever there was one.
Mursi, in his speech today, made gestures toward toning down the rhetoric, saying it was "natural" for there to be some opposition to his actions. But in repeatedly using words like "thugs" and "infiltrators" -- and emphasizing the deaths of six counter-demonstrators -- he evoked the dismissive attitudes of Egyptian leaders past toward dissent. He invited the opposition to lunch and indicated willingness to revise one article of the draft constitution, but otherwise made no concessions, stressing that soon the electorate would decide the constitutional matter anyway."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA