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July 24, 2013

Egyptian Army Chief Urges Protests

by Edward Yeranian

Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has urged Egyptians to turn out Friday to denounce what he called "violence and terrorism," and to authorize the army and police to deal with it. He also insisted there is "no going back" on Egypt's political "road map" which he vowed would end in free and fair elections. 

Sissi received applause as he addressed a crowd of graduating cadets, insisting that his “conscience was clear” over his actions in Egypt's recent political upheaval. “The military,” he insisted, “takes orders only from the people.”

He said he warned Egypt's political and religious leaders, including ousted President Mohamed Morsi, over many months that the country was “heading into a dark tunnel,” and that a “solution” was needed to resolve the country's escalating crisis.

Sissi also stressed that the “political road map” calling for rewriting the constitution and holding fresh parliamentary and presidential elections would go ahead as planned, despite protests by the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

The defense minister said no one should think for one minute that he can ignore the road map, insisting that free and fair elections would be held and that international organizations would be free to monitor them. If any group, he said, believes it has a majority, it should run in the election.

According to Reuters Egypt's public prosecutor later ordered the arrest of Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and eight other senior members of the movement in a probe over accusations of inciting violence.  Badie and other Brotherhood figures have been detained before and subsequently released since July 3. The Brotherhood, which for decades existed largely underground before the fall of strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, fears a broad crackdown.

As scattered violence rocked various parts of the country, Sissi asked Egyptians to hold rallies on Friday to demonstrate to the world that they support their military, as they did on June 30.

He said he has never asked anything of the Egyptian people, but that he is urging them to turn out on Friday to show the world what they have decided and to give the army and the police the authority to confront violence and terrorism.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam el-Erian told Qatar's Arabic-language al Jazeera TV that his group refuses any “army diktat,” and that it demands that elected President Mohamed Morsi be reinstated.

Mohamed Kamal, who is professor of political science at Cairo University, tells VOA that he thinks the army is trying to circumscribe further violence, but is being magnanimous by offering the Muslim Brotherhood a second chance to make their case with voters:

"It shows that the military is concerned about the escalation of violence, especially in Cairo, and wanted to put an end to this stalemate and it also shows [Sissi] wants to give the Brotherhood and their party a second chance in politics, which is rare. He wants them to run again in what he promised to be free and fair elections and that the people and the military will accept the result of this election," Kamal said.

Kamal points out that there is a “growing wave of anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment” in Egypt and that it would be “political suicide” for the group to continue to oppose the "new reality on the ground.”