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Violence in the Middle East reached new heights in recent days as both Syria and Egypt descended into greater unrest, sparking fears that political dynamics in the region are spiraling out of control.
Protesters in Egypt angrily marched towards the president’s palace early Friday afternoon to express dissatisfaction with Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
Morsi issued a decree last month that granted him broad governing powers and placed him above legal reproach.
Thousands poured into the streets and marched towards the presidential compound in Cairo in a scene closely resembling the mass protests that brought down former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Secular demonstrators also took to Tahrir Square, the now famous epicenter of the opposition, to protest what they say is Morsi’s unjustified power grab.
Events escalated Thursday and Friday when Muslim Brotherhood backed forces launched several counter-protests that ended in violence.
Quarrels between secular and Islamist factions continued into Friday as Muslim Brotherhood supporters fought with protestors outside of a Brotherhood compound in Damietta, according to reports.
At least six have died so far.
Morsi proposed holding a dialogue session on Saturday, an offer quickly rejected by an opposition that is gaining momentum.
The renewed turmoil in Egypt stoked fears among regional observers that the government could collapse just months after the country’s first free elections.
The United Nations chief human rights advocate expressed concern about the “disastrous” situation in Egypt on Friday, the New York Times reported.
“The current government came to power on the back of similar protests and so should be particularly sensitive to the need to protect protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Pillay added.
Morsi was defiant in a “fiery speech” in which he refused to relinquish control, according to the Associated Press.
President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Morsi on Thursday and underscored U.S. support “for the Egyptian people.”
“The president emphasized that all political leaders in Egypt should make clear to their supporters that violence is unacceptable,” according to White House readout of the call.
“The president underscored that it is essential for Egyptian leaders across the political spectrum to put aside their differences and come together to agree on a path that will move Egypt forward,” the readout added.
The situation in Syria meanwhile continued to devolve as pro-Assad forces reportedly geared up to use lethal chemical weapons on rebel fighters.
The use of chemical weapons could draw the U.S. and Western forces into a conflict the Obama administration has gone to great lengths to avoid.
Obama has stated that chemical weapons would cross a “red line” with his administration but he has declined to elaborate on what exactly this means.
U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon dubbed the potential use of such weapons an “outrageous crime.”
“If it is the case, then it will be an outrageous crime in the name of humanity … I know that many world leaders have added their voices urging him not to use it and warning him that it will create huge consequences,” Moon said.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford echoed these sentiments Thursday. He also stated that the civil war must ultimately end with a “political solution.”
“The only way out of this Syrian crisis is ultimately a political solution,” Ford said Thursday during a discussion organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “I want to be clear, we think and have been saying since August 2011 that Bashar al Assad and his [government] must go.”
An estimated 1.5 million Syrians have been displaced by the violence and another 23 million remain refugees within the country, according to Ford.
Those close to the Syrian opposition have criticized the administration for failing to offer a clear policy regarding Syria.
“What is really the strategic vision for the U.S. in Syria,” Tony Badran, an FDD research fellow, said following Ford’s remarks.
“Why do we care about Syria and what are our objectives? Those two things have been unfortunately very blurry throughout the last two years.”