01.30.13

Assailants Loot Cairo Hotel Amid Chaos

As Egypt’s chaos worsens amid protests against President Mohamed Morsi, masked assailants raided the Semiramis Intercontinental.

As the faceoff between Egyptian protesters and security forces escalated for a sixth day on Tuesday, masked assailants ransacked the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel in Tahrir Square, looting money and sending dozens of guests there and at neighboring hotels fleeing for cover.

There were no injuries in the hotel siege but the incident exacerbated an increasingly hostile situation in Egypt as many protesters turned to violence as a means for voicing frustration over failing efforts to achieve a political consensus for the country. Cars burned and smoke plumes colored the sky around Cairo on Tuesday, as security forces intensified tear gas attacks to disperse the crowds in and around Tahrir Square. Egypt's army chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, warned that the deterioration of law and order “could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations."

The public prosecutor, meanwhile, ordered the arrest of the enigmatic “Black Bloc” protesters—a group that recently emerged in Egypt and are characterized by their uniform black masks—accusing them of participating in “terrorist attacks,” state-run media reported. The group denied its involvement in any violent or destructive protests.

Several opposition groups met with President Mohamed Morsi in the presidential palace late Monday, but the country’s secular coalition, the National Salvation Front, headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, shunned the talks. Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, ElBaradei warned that unless urgent measures are taken to uphold justice and achieve a balance of power, the political stalemate would continue.

“Without accepting his responsibility as a president for the latest bloody events, promising to form a government of national salvation and commissioning a balanced committee to amend the constitution, any dialogue will be a waste of time," ElBaradei said.

“[Morsi] is completely ignoring the revolution in the streets and I think and hope that his days are numbered.”

After months of relative calm following the first presidential election since Egyptians successfully ousted Hosni Mubarak, protesters took to the streets in full force once again in November after Morsi issued a decree granting himself sweeping powers and immunity from judicial oversight. Offering the same protection to the Islamist-dominated constitutional committee, Egypt’s first post-revolution constitution was hastily drafted and sent to a referendum in December amid a massive outcry from secular parties. The constitution passed last month with 64 percent of the vote, although riddled with accusations of fraud.

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Egyptian riot police clash with protesters near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Intense fighting for days around central Tahrir Square engulfed two landmark hotels and forced the U.S. Embassy to suspend public services on Tuesday. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

“[Morsi] is completely ignoring the revolution in the streets and I think and hope that his days are numbered,” said Ibrahim Fahmy, an independent liberal from Cairo, adding that it would be a “miracle” if the Muslim Brotherhood “realizes that they cannot go on like this and shakes hands with the opposition, stops the constitution, forms a new government and changes the election law.”

This latest unrest has dealt a blow to Egypt’s economy, already on a fast-decline since the revolution began two years ago. The country’s benchmark stock index tumbled 2 percent on Tuesday alone, while the Egyptian pound weakened by 0.3 percent, bringing its total depreciation this month to more than 7 percent.

In Port Said and neighboring cities, where Morsi enraged residents by declaring a 30-day state of emergency Sunday, protesters defiantly took to the streets for a second night just as the 9 p.m. curfew took effect, chanting and singing slogans of resistance against the Muslim Brotherhood--of which Morsi is a member. More than 50 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured last weekend in clashes sparked after 21 local soccer fans—known as “ultras”—were sentenced to death in connection with Egypt’s deadliest-ever soccer riots last year.

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Shawn Baldwin/Corbis

Many smaller cities have felt somewhat neglected by the rapid changes engulfing Egypt these past two years, with much of the focus concentrated on the larger cities like Cairo and Alexandria—while at the same time, an alarming deterioration in security has gripped the country outside the capital.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said that Morsi would consider lifting the state of emergency in the “canal zone” cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez, saying that it was never meant to prevent peaceful demonstrations from taking place. “The state of emergency may be canceled, shortened, or limited geographically,” Ali said Tuesday. Demonstrators continue to rally outside the prison where the defendants are being held, occasionally clashing with security forces guarding the complex.

“I feel we reached the point of no return, especially after President Morsi praised police efforts when they were killing his own people,” said Ahmed El Nabawy, an engineering student at the University of Port Said. “I think we are entering a third revolution now where instead of fighting against any one political party, we are fighting to reject this government which has essentially duplicated the policies of the Mubarak government.”