Middle East

Q&A: Egypt's riots and political crisis

Cairo protest 28 January

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi is facing new challenges to his leadership after several days of protests and rioting in cities across Egypt. Dozens of people have been killed. There are different reasons for the unrest in different parts of the country.

How did the latest protests begin?

Demonstrations took place in Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities to mark the second anniversary of the 25 January uprising that unseated the former president, Hosni Mubarak. These soon turned into protests against Mr Morsi.

Liberals and other opponents of the president accuse the new Islamist leader from the Muslim Brotherhood, who was elected last year, of betraying the revolution. There is widespread disaffection at the manner in which a new constitution was rushed through parliamentary approval and a referendum and with the way Mr Morsi is using presidential powers.

In Port Said, at the northern end of the Suez Canal, riots began on Saturday after a court sentenced 21 local people to death for their role in last February's football violence. Over 70 people were killed after a match between al-Masry club playing at home to Cairo's al-Ahly.

Relatives of those convicted attacked police and the prison where the men were held. Soldiers were then brought in to guard strategic sites. There were further clashes on Sunday at the funerals for more than 30 people who were killed and the unrest spread to Ismailia and Port Suez.

Locals in Port Said argue that the authorities responsible for security at the ill-fated football match have not been brought to justice and that the prosecuted al-Masry fans are scapegoats.

Are the protests connected?

These are, at heart, separate protests driven by separate problems, but there are common factors. There are widespread law and order problems in Egypt and a loss of confidence in state institutions, particularly the security services and the judiciary.

What has been Mr Morsi's response?

On Sunday night the president gave a televised address announcing a state of emergency in three cities along the Suez Canal: Port Said, Ismailia and Port Suez. He ordered a night-time curfew to stay in place for 30 days.

Since then the cabinet has given the president powers to deploy the armed forces on the streets "to participate with the police in preserving security and protecting vital establishments".

Mr Morsi has also called the opposition to talks at the presidential palace in an attempt to restore national unity. They include parties from across the political spectrum - from Islamists to liberals and leftists. His most powerful opponents are from the National Salvation Front.

Who are the National Salvation Front?

Last November many of Egypt's fractious and divided opposition factions came together to oppose a decree expanding the president's powers and the new Islamist-tinged constitution that he rushed through. The National Salvation Front (NSF) claimed the steps amounted to a power grab by Mr Morsi and his allies.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN diplomat is co-ordinator of the NSF. Other major figures include the former foreign minister and head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa and the leftist leader, Hamdeen Sabahi.

Recently the group has threatened to boycott parliamentary elections due in a few months' time if its demands are not met. They include the formation of a national salvation government and an early presidential election.

After a meeting on Monday the NSF dismissed Mr Morsi's invitation to dialogue as "empty of content".