Egypt army says may act, urges political truce

Two die in clashes ahead of opposition rallies next week; Muslim Brotherhood describes two dead as "martyrs."

June 23, 2013 19:51
HAMAS GUNMEN hold a poster depicting Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza City June 2012.

Hamas gunmen hold Morsi poster 370. (photo credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

CAIRO - Egypt's army issued a sharp warning to rival political factions on Sunday that it may step in to impose order, as clashes ahead of major opposition rallies next weekend saw at least two men shot dead.

The statement by the head of the armed forces was a dramatic reminder of the independent power of the military in Egypt, a year after the generals handed authority to a civilian president - Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist who won the country's first free elections following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

In a move aimed at both sides in Egypt's polarised politics, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also defense minister, stressed that the army was acting to protect the "will of the people" and urged politicians to forge a new national consensus.

A military source said fighting and aggressive rhetoric and damage to property in recent days had prompted the intervention.

Sisi met Morsi for what an army spokesman described as a "routine" consultation on Sunday.

Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood turned their organizational strength into political power but have struggled to manage an economy in crisis or build a broad base of support that is accepted by liberal and other non-Islamist groups.

That polarization has driven a campaign to hold massive opposition demonstrations next Sunday, June 30, calling for Morsi to resign. In turn, his Islamist supporters have taken to the streets in shows of strength, calling the opposition bad losers determined to overturn the results of the elections.

General Sisi, who was promoted into his present post by Morsi last year, said: "There is a state of division in society and the continuation of it is a danger to the Egyptian state and there must be consensus among all.

"The will of the Egyptian nation is what governs us and we protect it with honor, and we are completely responsible for protecting it," said Sisi.

"We cannot permit a violation of the will of the people."

While Islamists point to the legitimacy of their electoral power, opponents accuse the Brotherhood of betraying the Arab Spring revolution by seeking to entrench its power.


Sisi said the armed forces would not stand by while Egypt descended into conflict and urged politicians to use the week remaining before June 30 to narrow their differences.

"Those who think that we are divorced from the dangers that threaten the Egyptian state are wrong," he said. "We will not remain silent as the country slips into a struggle that is hard to control."

Gamal Soltan, a political analyst, said the army may have been moved to act by aggressive statements from Morsi supporters at a major rally on Friday: "This is ... the strongest and the most explicit statement coming from a military official ... This is explicitly saying ... the armed forces will intervene.

"By making this statement, he is stepping closer to the center stage of politics."

A spokesman for the opposition National Salvation Front, Khaled Dawoud, said: "These are very reasonable statements, and what is expected from Egypt's army.

"We are facing direct threats from supporters of President Morsi to spill blood if we exercise ... our democratic right to demand peacefully early presidential elections."

A spokesman for the Brotherhood's political party said it was studying the statement before making public comment.

Army spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali told Reuters: "This was a supportive message that the army is sending to its people after the army noticed that worries about violence and internal conflict had spread among the people recently.

"The army, which belongs to the people, cannot stand by if such fears are realized, so the statement was meant to set out the army position, which is rooted in its national role - it cannot ignore anything that might threaten national security."


Two men, both Islamists, died as a result of clashes.

One was shot dead in overnight in the industrial city of Mahalla, north of Cairo, security sources said. A second man, died of gunshot wounds sustained in clashes at Fayoum south of the capital some days before.

The Muslim Brotherhood described both dead men as "martyrs".

Highlighting mutual mistrust as Egypt struggles to establish democratic institutions after its 2011 revolution, the Brotherhood also denounced as a "political trial" a court judgment on Sunday that called for an investigation of its role in a mass jail-break during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

Liberals and secular activists in the "Tamarud - Rebel!" campaign, accuse Islamists of intimidation. They say they have gathered 15 million signatures on a petition calling for Morsi to resign - more than the 13 million votes that elected him.

The Brotherhood and its Islamist allies staged a massive rally in support of Morsi in Cairo on Friday, at which some speakers warned of a violent response to efforts to remove him.

The Muslim Brotherhood said on Facebook on Sunday that Karim Abdel Ghani, a member of the Islamist Nour party, was shot dead in Mahalla by the "Tamarud militia". Nour said its office in Mahalla was also attacked.

The Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said it planned a funeral on Sunday for Mohamed Shalaqany, who it said was shot some days before by Tamarud "thugs" in Fayoum, a rural Islamist bastion south of Cairo.

"Their name is Tamarud but they are actually remnants of the old regime," Murad Ali, a senior FJP official said.

Egyptian media gave extensive coverage on Sunday to a ruling by a judge in Ismailia who, in acquitting a man accused of fleeing a local jail during the 2011 uprising, asked the public prosecutor to investigate what he described as a "conspiracy" by the Brotherhood and foreign Islamists to open up the prison.

Among those freed was Morsi himself, who had been among hundreds of Brotherhood leaders rounded up as a precaution by Mubarak's security forces when the revolution began.

The freeing of Palestinian militants from Hamas and Lebanese members of the Shi'ite Hezbollah militia, among others, has prompted accusations from the Brotherhood's opponents that it connived with enemies of Egypt during the incident.

After the judgement, opponents of Morsi gathered outside the court, calling for his resignation.

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