Egypt’s army ‘ready’ for protests

Egypt’s army ‘ready’ for protests

Egypt’s army ‘ready’ for protests

The Egyptian army warns that it will act to prevent nation from entering a ‘dark tunnel’ of conflict ahead of the protests against President Morsi. AP photo

Egypt’s defense minister has warned that the army will act if violence breaks out in the country ahead of the first anniversary of President Mohamed Morsi’s election, as opposition leaders clamored for his resignation.

Issued a week before mass rallies to demand the resignation of Morsi, and following days of friction and increasingly aggressive rhetoric between factions, the statement by the armed forces chief was the most powerful since generals ceded control to civilians after Morsi’s election a year ago.

“There is a state of division in society,” Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Facebook. “Prolonging it poses a danger to the Egyptian state. There must be consensus among all. We will not remain silent as the country slips into a conflict that is hard to control.”

“The armed forces have the obligation to intervene to stop Egypt from plunging into a dark tunnel of conflict and infighting,” al-Sisi warned.

Morsi’s opponents, who accuse him of hijacking the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime, plan a rally on June 30 to mark the day Morsi was sworn in as Egypt’s first civilian president a year ago.

The defense minister urged Egyptians to set aside their differences, saying it was the army’s duty to act to prevent chaos. “It is the national and moral duty of the army to intervene... to prevent sectarian strife or the collapse of state institutions,” al-Sisi said during a meeting with soldiers.

He also criticized those who made anti-army statements. “Those who think that we ignore the dangers facing the Egyptian nation are mistaken. We will not remain silent in the face of the country’s plunge into conflict,” al-Sisi said. On June 21, a member of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, Mohamed al-Baltagui, criticized the army at a rally organized by supporters of the president ahead of the opposition’s planned protest.

Tens of thousands of Morsi supporters massed on June 21 in a show of strength ahead of the June 30 protest. Morsi has repeated a call for dialogue in an attempt to ease deep political divisions.

Since taking office a year ago, Morsi has squared off against the judiciary, media, police and most recently artists. Morsi’s supporters say he is clearing institutions of decades of corruption, but his critics accuse him of concentrating power in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. Leading opponent Mohamed ElBaradei, a former chief of U.N. nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged the president to resign for the sake of national unity.

Prime minister condemns attack on Shiites

In a separate development, Egypt’s prime minister, Hesham Qandil, condemned yesterday the “heinous” attack against Shiites in a village south of Cairo that left four dead and several injured, the Cabinet said in a statement.

Qandil “strongly condemns the ugly incident ... which resulted in the death of four Egyptian citizens,” the Cabinet said.

“This heinous crime is incompatible with the principles and teachings of all heavenly religions, and contrary to the nature of religious tolerance in Egypt.”

On June 23, four Egyptian Shiite Muslims were killed when they were attacked by a hostile mob in the village of Abu Mussalem in Giza province. Hundreds of residents of Abu Mussalem surrounded the house of a Shiite resident after learning that a leading Shiite cleric, Hassan Shehata, was inside. The mob threw Molotov cocktails at the house, situated in a tiny alley, hoping to set it ablaze. The crowd chanted “Allahu Akbar” and “Shiites are infidels” before storming the house, dragging the Shiites out and beating them. Residents of the Egyptian village said they were “proud” of the mob.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.