Army chief says Egypt is close to collapsing

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Egypt’s army chief has said that political unrest is pushing the state to the brink of collapse – 
a stark warning from the institution that ran the country until last year, as Cairo’s first freely elected leader struggles to curb bloody street violence.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a US-trained general appointed by president Mohamed Morsi last year to head the armed forces, added in a statement yesterday that one of the primary goals of deploying troops in cities on the Suez Canal was to protect the waterway that is vital for Egypt’s economy and world trade.

Gen Sisi’s comments, published online, followed 52 deaths in the past week of disorder and highlighted the mounting sense of crisis facing Egypt and its ­Islamist head of state.

Violence largely subsided yesterday, although some youths again hurled rocks at police lines near Tahrir Square in Cairo.

It seemed unlikely Gen Sisi – who is also defence minister – was signalling that the army wants to take back the power it held for six decades after the end of the colonial era and through an interim period after the overthrow of former air force chief Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

But it did send a strong message that Egypt’s biggest institution – which also has a huge economic role and is a recipient of massive direct US subsidies – is worried about the fate of the nation, after five days of turmoil.

“The continuation of the struggle of the different political forces … could lead to the collapse of the state,” said Gen Sisi.

He said the economic, political and social challenges facing the country represented “a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the Egyptian state” and added that the army would remain “the solid and cohesive block” on which the state rests.