Egypt: Army calls for more protests

2013-07-24 19:57
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (AFP)

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (AFP)

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Cairo - Egypt's military chief on Wednesday called on his countrymen to hold mass demonstrations to voice their support for the army and police to deal with potential "violence and terrorism", a move that signals a stepped up campaign against supporters of the ousted Islamist president.

General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, addressing a graduation ceremony for a class of military cadets, urged Egyptians to take to the streets on Friday, saying a massive turnout would give him a "mandate" and an "order" to do what is "necessary" to stop bloodshed.

A Muslim Brotherhood-led alliance of factions opposed to the military's 3 July coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi said el-Sisi's call was an "open invitation" to civil war.

It called on Egyptians to boycott the pro-military rally. The alliance is planning marches of its own on Friday, raising the specter of violence.

Clashes cause deaths

Since Morsi's fall, his Islamist supporters have taken to the streets vowing to continue protests until he is restored. Clashes have erupted multiple times between the Islamists and Morsi opponents or security forces.

Each side accuses the other of starting the violence. Dozens have been killed, mostly from the pro-Morsi side, including more than 50 who were killed by troops during clashes at their Cairo sit-in.

Throughout, the military and its allied media have depicted the protesters as a dangerous armed movement. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies say their protests are peaceful.

The group accuses troops or thugs hired by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, of attacking pro-Morsi rallies.

Multiple attacks

At the same time, Islamic militants have stepped up attacks on security forces in Sinai Peninsula since Morsi's fall, killing nearly 20 soldiers and policemen and raising fears of a wave of militant violence.

On Wednesday, suspected militants killed two soldiers and wounded three others in four separate attacks in Sinai.

In a separate incident, three suspected militants were killed when their explosives-laden car blew up apparently prematurely just outside el-Arish, a coastal city in northern Sinai that is a stronghold of radical Islamists, security officials said.

In the early hours on Wednesday, a bomb went off outside the main police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, wounding 19 people. Presidential spokesperson Ahmed el-Muslemani called the attack an act of terrorism.

The Mansoura bombing is a possible sign that a militant campaign could be spreading to Egypt's heartland, where so far the violence has been restricted to street clashes between the two sides.

Army in power

El-Sisi's address on Wednesday in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria was a strong sign that the top general is the source of real power in Egypt, despite his assertions that authority has been handed completely to the civilian government set up after Morsi's fall.

A political adviser to interim President Adly Mansour said the state already has a mandate to keep security, but that the army chief was seeking additional assurance that the state and citizens were on the same side.

"We are talking about a people who are subjected to aggression on the streets," Mustafa Hegazi said, alluding to allegations of violence by Morsi supporters against opponents.

The youth movement Tamarod, or "Rebel", which spearheaded the campaign to topple Morsi, said it will participate in the demonstrations called by el-Sisi to denounce what it called terrorism and bring Morsi to account for "the crimes he committed against the people".

Not an invitation to violence

El-Sisi called for rallies on Friday to be as large as those on 30 June, when millions took to the streets to demand Morsi's ouster, and 3 July, when millions again celebrated his ouster. He promised police and troops would guard the rallies.

"On Friday, every honorable and honest Egyptian must come out. Come out and remind the whole world that you have a will and resolve of your own," el-Sisi said.

"Please, shoulder your responsibility with me, your army and the police and show your size and steadfastness in the face of what is going on," said the US-trained general.

El-Sisi cautioned that his call for mass demonstrations should not be taken as an invitation to violence.

Morsi camp to stick to its guns

Commenting on el-Sisi's address, Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader, made it clear that the Morsi camp intends to stick to its guns. "There is no solution except rescinding the coup and the return of legitimacy," he told Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday boycotted the inaugural session of a reconciliation conference sponsored by President Mansour.

The session was attended by Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt's top reform campaigner who was named vice president after Morsi's ouster, and several dozen senior politicians and public figures.

Hegazi, Mansour's adviser, later told a news conference that reconciliation could only come after individuals who broke the law are brought to justice, saying this was applicable to Sinai and Cairo's central Tahrir Square.

The 3 July coup that ousted Morsi followed four days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians demanding that he step down.

Morsi's supporters insist he must be reinstated, branding his ouster as a coup against democracy.

The former president was Egypt's first freely elected leader, but his opponents say he concentrated too much power in his own hands and his Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still holding to 2014 elections

El-Sisi said on Wednesday that he had no intention, "not a for a second", to go back on a political road map he announced the day he ousted Morsi, which entailed parliamentary and presidential elections by early 2014 and a referendum before that on a new constitution or amendments to the one drafted by Morsi's Islamist backers.

He promised foreign observers from the UN and the European Union would be invited to monitor the elections. "We are ready for an election to be supervised by the whole world," he said.

El-Sisi was a member of the military council that ruled Egypt for nearly 17 months after the ouster in 2011 of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. He was the chief of military intelligence at the time. Morsi named him defense minister and military chief in August 2012.

On Wednesday, el-Sisi sharply criticised Morsi and the Brotherhood, repeating assertions he has frequently made in the last three weeks that they were driving the country toward civil strife and imposing their own brand of Islam to a mostly resistant population.

He said he had never shied away from speaking his mind to Morsi.

"Don't ever think that I deceived the former president. I repeatedly told him that the army is the army of all Egyptians and stands at an equal distance from all parties. I told him that the army is under his command because he had an electoral mandate," he said.

Read more on:    abdel-fattah el-sisi  |  mohammed morsi  |  egypt  |  north africa  |  egypt crisis

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