Egypt Military Says It May Intervene to Prevent Conflict

Egypt’s army warned it will prevent the country’s political conflict from escalating, a week before rallies seeking to push President Mohamed Mursi from office.

Defense Minister Abdelfatah Al-Seesi, in remarks posted yesterday on the military’s spokesman’s official Facebook page, also gave both the nation’s Islamist rulers and its secular and youth activist rivals a week to work toward reconciliation.

The armed forces “won’t remain silent as the country slides into a conflict that’s difficult to control,” Al-Seesi said. “There is a state of division in society and its continuation is a danger to the Egyptian state.”

Opposition parties and youth movements have shunned Mursi’s calls for dialogue as disingenuous, accusing him of seeking to consolidate the power of his Islamist backers while failing to address the economic and political demands that sparked the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Violence flared again last week in some regions after Mursi appointed eight Islamists as provincial governors. The political turmoil has battered markets and sent Egypt’s credit risk to the highest level since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

‘Bloody War’

The army’s threat to intercede is a signal that it will block attempts to monopolize power, though a military coup is unlikely, Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, said in a phone interview.

“It’s a pretty strong-worded statement that is meant to send a message reassuring those who oppose Mursi that the army has got their back,” in reference to Al-Seesi’s remarks. The military statement also sends “a warning to the Islamist backers of the president who are threatening a bloody war against the opposition and are calling whoever opposes Mursi an infidel.”

Yields on Egypt’s benchmark dollar bonds fell 38 basis points to 9.17 percent at 10:25 a.m. in Cairo today, after surging to a record 9.55 percent yesterday, when the main stock index also fell 2.2 percent.

The opposition and Mursi’s Islamist backers both expressed appreciation that the army has so far kept out of politics, and stressed their rejection of violence in the run-up to the June 30 demonstrations that will mark Mursi’s first anniversary in office. Mursi’s supporters rallied last weekend to oppose attempts to push the Islamist leader from office.

‘National Fabric’

The April 6 youth movement, which backed Mursi’s presidential bid but later became one of his strongest critics, said in an e-mailed statement that the army under its current leadership is an “inseparable part of the national fabric and the protective shield of the country’s security.”

Mohammad Saad Al-Katatni, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said Al-Seesi’s comments gave voice to the frustration of all state institutions, including the military, about violence ahead of the June 30 rallies. He said the protests of last week “created chaos, sectarianism” and civil strife.

Al-Seesi, who was appointed defense chief by Mursi after the Islamist removed Hosni Mubarak’s long-time defense minister and other senior officers last year, had warned in January about the potential “collapse of the state” as a result of the political divide. The army took control of Egypt after the 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak, before ceding power to Mursi a year ago.

“The army’s bond with the people is eternal,” Al-Seesi said yesterday. “Those who think they can infiltrate this bond or circumvent it are mistaken.” He also called for “genuine reconciliation” between Egypt’s political forces.

Mursi met Al-Seesi yesterday to discuss preparations to secure state installations, the president said on his spokesman’s Facebook page.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.