Egypt’s military chief has called for mass rallies tomorrow to give him a mandate to tackle violence that has surged following the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, ramping up pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who deposed Mr Morsi on 3 July and installed an interim administration in the wake of huge street protests, yesterday said he did not want more bloodshed and urged national reconciliation.
But the Brotherhood, which accuses Gen Sisi of leading a coup, said the call for nationwide demonstrations raised the spectre of a military crackdown, and warned of possible civil war.
Underscoring the potential for trouble, Mr Morsi’s backers announced plans for 34 marches in and around Cairo on Friday.
Speaking after days of sporadic street clashes that have left more than 100 dead, Gen Sisi said ordinary Egyptians should rally to strengthen the hand of the army and police.
“I request that all Egyptians next Friday … go down [into the street] to give me a mandate and an order to confront possible violence and terrorism,” he told his audience at a military graduation ceremony in remarks broadcast live by state media.
Citing the “current situation”, the United States said president Barack Obama had decided to delay delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian army, signalling deepening concern in the West over the course taken by the Arab world’s most populous country.
Crowds on the streets have played a crucial role in Egypt’s faltering transition to democracy, triggering the downfall of strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, forcing concessions from the generals who took power from him, and then rallying on 30 June to denounce Mr Morsi’s troubled first year in office.
Since the fall of Mubarak as the Arab Spring revolutions took hold more than two years ago, Egypt has been in turmoil, raising concern among its allies.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters have also taken their woes onto Egypt’s streets, setting up a round-the-clock vigil in north-east Cairo, close to key military installations.
“This is an invitation to civil war and the spilling of the people’s blood in the streets,” the Brotherhood said in a statement about Gen Sisi’s speech.
Mohammed Hamdi, 24, an engineering student attending the Brotherhood’s Cairo vigil, said: “We think that after what Sisi has said, there will be violence on Friday. He is encouraging thugs to come and attack our peaceful protest. We have no guns and don’t want violence. We will keep protesting.”
State news agency Mena said the interior ministry planned “unprecedented security” to protect the Friday rallies.