Egypt’s army chief is urging the public to take to the streets and give the military a mandate to stamp out violence that has roiled the country since President Mohamed Mursi’s ouster, as attacks flared in the Sinai.
The call by Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi for all “honorable” Egyptians to rally tomorrow and back the army as it seeks to combat “terrorism” threatened to further inflame tensions that have spiked since Mursi’s removal. In a speech televised from the city of Alexandria yesterday, al-Seesi said demonstrators should “order me to confront the potential violence and terrorism.”
Supporters of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood have held daily protests since the army’s July 3 intervention, demanding the former president’s reinstatement and frequently clashing with opponents and security forces. Almost 100 people have been killed, as the violence undermines efforts by the new army-installed government to ease tensions and revive the economy.
The Brotherhood has called Mursi’s removal a coup against Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president. The group has also planned mass rallies for tomorrow, and Essam El-Erian, vice-chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said al-Seesi’s call was a “threat to plunge the country into seas of blood” to which Egyptians would not respond.
The ultraconservative Nour Party, the only Islamist group that supported Mursi’s ouster, said that rival street protests could lead to a civil war. The military should remain committed to its role in protecting Egyptians and should “prevent the spilling of blood in a conflict among fellow Egyptians,” the party said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour supported al-Seesi’s call for rallies tomorrow, according to the state-run Ahram Gate website. Their appeals followed another surge in violence, including a bombing outside the security headquarters in the city of Mansoura that left one person dead and more than two dozen injured.
In Sinai, where attacks by militants have increased since Mursi was toppled, at least three members of the security forces were killed, including one by a sniper, while a car bomb blast killed three suspected militants, Mohamed Said, an official with the North Sinai security directorate, said by phone.
The U.S. is concerned “that clashes would make it very difficult to reconcile and get ahead of cycles of unrest and instability,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington yesterday when asked about al-Seesi’s call for rallies. She said the U.S. is urging all sides to protest peacefully.
The U.S. is delaying the delivery of four F-16 fighters to Egypt because of the “fluid situation” there, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters yesterday. The planes are part of the $1.3 billion in annual military aid that Egypt gets from the U.S., whose government is discussing whether Mursi’s overthrow by the army requires suspending the assistance.
Psaki said the delayed F-16 delivery represents a “very specific decision made at this specific time about this specific case” and said it doesn’t reflect any broader determination about further U.S. aid.
Al-Seesi’s appeal “is obviously not helpful in terms of de-escalating and trying to resolve the current political crisis,” Yasser el-Shimy, a Cairo-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said by phone. “It’s a very dangerous precedent for the minister of defense to ask the Egyptians to protest.”
The Freedom and Justice Party’s spokesman, Hamza Zawba, said yesterday that al-Seesi’s call for demonstrations “closed all doors for a political solution.”
Egyptian stocks fell amid the continuing tensions, with the benchmark index declining 1.7 percent. Moody’s Investors Service maintained its negative outlook on Egypt yesterday while affirming its Caa1 credit rating, saying the country faces a deepening political divide after Mursi’s ouster.
Amid the outcry by Islamists against al-Seesi’s comments, army spokesman Ahmed Ali said on his official Facebook page that they were nothing more than an initiative to combat violence, in line with efforts to achieve national reconciliation while implementing the transitional road map.
Al-Seesi warned yesterday that some people wanted to drag Egypt into a “dangerous tunnel” and to “either rule the country or destroy it.”
The army chief vowed there would be no back-tracking from the transition plan, which calls for amending the constitution and then parliamentary and presidential elections by early next year. He said that international observers would be welcome to monitor the votes.
Participants in national reconciliation talks yesterday emphasized the need for the state to address violence and eliminate terrorism, the government said in an e-mailed statement. They called for “all necessary measures” within the rule of law.
Tamarod, the organization that initiated the rallies leading to Mursi’s overthrow, was already planning demonstrations tomorrow in support of the army and welcomed al-Seesi’s call.
“The Muslim Brotherhood are the ones who started the violence and rejected the hands extended for national reconciliation,” Moheb Doss, a founding member of Tamarod, said by phone yesterday. “Their use of violence can only be countered by swift decisions by the army.”
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