CAIRO — Egypt’s president set parliamentary elections to begin in April — a decision that an opposition leader denounced Friday as “a recipe for disaster” because of the ongoing political turmoil in the country.
About 15,000 people took to the streets in the Suez Canal city of Port Said to demonstrate against President Mohammed Morsi, hanging effigies of him in the main square. Residents have been on a general strike for six days, demanding punishment for what they considered a heavy-handed police crackdown during unrest in the city.
Morsi scheduled the staggered, four-stage voting process to begin April 27 and end in June. The newly elected Parliament would convene on July 6, according to a decree issued late Thursday night.
He hopes the election will end the political turmoil that has beset Egypt for the past two years, since the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. The upheaval has scared foreign investors and dried up tourism, both crucial foreign currency earners that helped the government pay for subsidized goods needed by the poor for survival.
But Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads one of the main opposition groups, the National Salvation Front, wrote on his Twitter account Friday that Morsi’s “decision to go for parliamentary elections amidst severe societal polarization and eroding state authority is a recipe for disaster.”
The National Salvation Front accuses Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters of monopolizing power and reneging on promises to set up an inclusive government that brings far-reaching reforms.
The opposition has called for amending articles in a new constitution that passed in a nationwide referendum. It also demands the resignation of the current technocrat Cabinet appointed by Morsi that includes eight Brotherhood ministers and other Islamists.
Morsi took over as president in June 2012 with the help of opposition groups and Islamists who voted against his rival, a former Mubarak-era prime minister. Morsi’s popularity haseroded due to power-grabbing decrees issued last year that allowed supporters to rush the constitution to a vote before a high court packed with Mubarak appointees could disband the process.
The vote took place during massive street protests against Morsi and the Islamist-led body that drafted the charter. It passed by 64 percent amid low turnout and a boycott by thousands of overseeing judges.
On the second anniversary of the Jan. 25 uprising, anger spilled out onto the streets and violence again engulfed the nation. About 70 people died in a wave of protests, clashes, and riots in the past four weeks, with more than half of those killed in Port Said.
Factory workers, activists, and laborers have held street rallies that brought Port Said, on the northern tip of the Suez Canal, to a halt, although shipping in the international waterway has not been affected.
Commentator Sayid Azab said Port Said opposes Morsi’s parliamentary vote timetable.
“Everyone is rejecting the elections and asking how they can take place in the absence of stability,” he said.
Abdullah Shehata, an economic specialist with the Brotherhood, said elections will help the country’s ailing economy.
“The elections will be positive because it will be the final institution to fall into place after the presidency and the constitution,” he said. “The coming Parliament will be elected by the people and will help build confidence in Egypt again.”
In Cairo, the opposition party led by former Mubarak rival Ayman Nour said its offices were torched and stormed by masked gunmen Friday. Speaking to the state-run Ahram Arabic website, the group said the men stole documents and videotapes before setting it ablaze.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was undeterred by criticism of Morsi’s election announcement. The party’s deputy, Essam el-Erian, was quoted on the group’s Facebook page as saying that he hopes the upcoming Parliament will be diverse and include Islamists, liberals, and leftists.