Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is facing withering criticism and a dangerous public backlash in the wake of his controversial announcement over the weekend to hold parliamentary elections at the end of April, Arab newspapers report. The waves of protests and the cessation of government services could be leading Egypt to a complete economic collapse.

In a television interview with the Dubai-based media channel al-Arabiya, President Morsi calmly reassures that parliamentary elections are the first step towards bringing Egypt to real political and economic stability.

“I invite all political forces to come together to ensure that the elections will be held with transparency and integrity,” Morsi said. “These are the first steps on the right path to achieve what is necessary for the Egyptian people.”

‘These are the first steps on the right path to achieve what is necessary for the Egyptian people’

Furthermore, Morsi denied any bad blood between his administration and the Egyptian military, insisting that he has always seen the army playing a strong role in the affairs of the state. When questioned about his decision to impose a curfew on Port Said and other Nile Delta cities due to violence in those locales, Morsi answered that he did so only because residents of those cities demanded order and feared for their lives. Morsi vowed to visit Port Said in the very near future.

When he does, however, he may well receive a stormy reception. Protests and calls for civil disobedience are continuing for an eighth straight day in Port Said.

The Saudi-owned a-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the entire Suez Canal port complex was shut down yesterday when demonstrators blocked off the customs authority and all transportation leading up to it. This prevented 35,000 Egyptians from other provinces from coming to work in the Port Said Free Trade Zone.

Other Egyptian cities seem to be following Port Said’s lead against the government. In the western city of Mahalla, home to Egypt’s largest textile company, demonstrators cut off trains leading to the city and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces, leading to the arrest of 60 people.

This prompted Talaat Afifi, Egypt’s minister of religious endowments, to issue a public outcry against such action.

“The sole beneficiaries of the calls for civil disobedience and the disabling of state institutions are the enemies of the nation who dream of halting its march toward reconstruction and to prevent it from getting rid of a corrupt governmental system,” Afifi said. “Islam totally rejects all claims of sabotage and violence and the disruption of people’s interests. Islamic law does not allow for the destabilization of communities.”

‘The sole beneficiaries of the calls for civil disobedience and the disabling of state institutions are the enemies of the nation who dream of halting its march toward reconstruction and to prevent it from getting rid of a corrupt governmental system’

In defiance of his words, Afifi and others in Morsi’s government are beginning to see the public’s anger and disorder spill into their offices.

The London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi reveals that a small number of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square managed to completely shut down the Mogamma, the massive governmental services building that serves as the centerpiece of the Egyptian bureaucracy. In blocking access, 18,000 Egyptian government workers were unable to get to work.

According to witnesses, “the protesters did not enter the building complex,” but “confirmed that they will not allow anyone else to enter the compound either.”

Arab MK warns of prisoner ‘time bomb’

In an interview with the London-based pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat, Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh called the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons a “ticking time bomb in the region.”

Promoting Palestinian Authority claims that 30-year-Arafat Jaradat, who reportedly died in an Israeli prison of a heart attack, actually died of severe beating by Israeli security officials, Barakeh issued a harsh warning to the Israeli government:

“If there is any harm to any prisoner, especially captive Samer Issawi, who continues his hunger strike [after 215 days], it will ignite a fire from which there will be no end,” he said.

‘If there is any harm to any prisoner, especially captive Samer Issawi, who continues his hunger strike [after 215 days], it will ignite a fire from which there will be no end’

Barakeh demanded the Israeli government take measures to show its good faith towards the Palestinians. When asked for a response to the report that Israel had agreed to transfer tax funds to the Palestinian Authority government, he was dismissive.

“The money that Netanyahu is turning over now was stolen by Netanyahu and his government from the Palestinians,” Barakeh emphasized. “Netanyahu’s decision [to transfer the tax funds] is not a solution, because the only solution today on the Palestinian issue is ending the occupation.”

Tunisian Islamist: ‘The bars and the beaches are open’

Responding to harsh public statements by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls that “Islamic fascism” was taking over Arab countries such as Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, Tunisian Renaissance party leader Rashid al-Ghannouchi went on the defense, proclaiming that Tunisia is a country “where the mosques are open, and the bars and the beaches are open too.”

The Renaissance Party fashions itself as a “moderate” Islamist political movement. The French interior minister’s comments were made after Tunisian opposition activist Shokri Belaid was assassinated earlier this month in Tunis.

According to the Doha-based media channel al-Jazeera, Ghannouchi said “the French are the least developed country in their understanding of Islam and Tunisians… [Minister] Manuel Valls has put the Renaissance Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda all together in one basket. He shows he doesn’t know anything about Islam. On the contrary, the Germans, the Americans, and the British understand that Islam is not unified and includes militants and moderates.”