The decision by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to name 17 new provincial governors, including several who belong to his former party, triggered another round of violence here and the reported resignation of a top minister.
The events stoked fears that Egypt’s first democratically elected leader was increasing Islamists’ control over the nation.
Such violence, which included clashes in at least three cities that involved small arms fire and Molotov cocktails, would be worrisome under any circumstances. But that it came just 11 days before Morsi’s one-year anniversary in office, when mass protests are planned across the country, has raised the already heightened tension even higher.
On Wednesday, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the secret organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency, and his opponents clashed on the streets of cities where seven of the 17 new governors are Islamists, according to MENA, the state news agency.
With Morsi’s latest appointments, which he announced Sunday, members of the Muslim Brotherhood or their backers now control 11 of Egypt’s 27 governorates.
In the Nile Delta city of Daqahliyah, clashes erupted in front of the offices of new governor and Muslim Brotherhood member Sobhi Younis, MENA reported. In the nearby governorates of Tanta and Gharbiyah, dozens were injured, the news agency said.
In a statement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party blamed the opposition, even as it became clear in the series of melees that both sides were involved.
The most controversial of the new appointments was Luxor’s new governor, Adel el Khayat, a member of Gamaa Islamiya. The group is suspected to have been behind the 1997 bombing of 58 foreign tourists in Luxor, a watershed event that sent Egypt’s then-thriving tourism into decline. Luxor, the country’s top southern destination, has never fully recovered.
In protest of the naming of a governor suspected of being linked to that attack, Morsi’s tourism minister, Hesham Zazou, a secularist and political independent, reportedly resigned from the Cabinet on Wednesday.
The Cabinet's spokesman Alaa al Hadidi said Prime Minister Hesham Kandil hadn't accepted Zazou's resignation, however, and that he’d attended the Cabinet meeting Wednesday, according to the newspaper Al Ahram
Zazou, who served as a deputy tourism minister until his appointment last August, was thought to have been put in the post to assuage fears among tourists that Egypt would crack down on such things as alcohol and women at public beaches.
Maintaining such practices would have been hard for an Islamist minister to justify, leaving the secularist Zazou with the task of repairing the tourism business. Once a keystone of the economy, tourism has been in a downward spiral since the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of former leader Hosni Mubarak and Morsi’s ascension.
Also in decline have been Morsi’s approval ratings, which have fallen every month of his presidency as the economic and security situation has deteriorated. A social decline has occurred as well. Thefts and other crimes are on the increase.
A Zogby Research Services poll of 5,000 Egyptians taken earlier this spring and released Monday found that only 28 percent saw Morsi’s election as positive. That’s down from 57 percent initially after his inauguration. The poll also found that 94 percent approved of the Egyptian army, which controlled the country from the time Mubarak resigned in February 2011 until a year ago.
The same poll also exposed Egypt’s vexing problem: There is no better alternative for leadership. Only 34 percent said they approved of the National Salvation Front and April 6 Youth Movement combined, the two biggest opposition groups.
The frustration with Morsi, coupled with a weak opposition, has left Egypt in a state of uncertainty as to what, if anything, can emerge from the mass protests planned for the week that leads to June 30 – except perhaps more violence.
McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed to this article from Cairo.