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July 25, 2013

As New Protests Loom, Egypt Military Seeks to Consolidate Role

by Elizabeth Arrott

Egypt faces another round of rallies Friday, as the military calls on citizens to show support for their maintaining control. 
 
Egypt has rarely been without demonstrations in recent weeks, but Friday's is the first openly called for by the military.
 
"They come out to give me the mandate and order that I confront violence and potential terrorism," said armed forces chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. 
 
His warning offered little compromise with supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, who vow to stay on the streets until their leader is reinstated.
 
Their Muslim Brotherhood-led rallies have been flash points of violence. The army blames the protesters, but many contest those charges. 
 
Human rights analyst Priyanka Motaparthy said, "Consistently the police have attacked and broken up Brotherhood demonstrations and some have often done so from the position of opposition demonstrators.  What this means is that the state is seen to be taking a side in this political battle."
 
The violence, she said, reinforces the Islamists' sense that politics in Egypt has become a zero-sum game.
 
"The Muslim Brotherhood have a history of being detained and tortured in police detention. They have a history of being targeted for their political activities and not being able to participate in political life. They really see this as an existential crisis," she said. 
 
​​Brotherhood officials say they will not counter violence with violence.  But they warn that more extreme elements could take up arms to re-assert Islamist-dominated rule, raising the specter of civil conflict seen elsewhere in the region. 
 
Yet some political analysts say the Islamists' options are limited. 
 
Publisher Hisham Kassem said, "This is a country that lives on six percent of its land.  It has a real army.  The possibility for a civil war or guerrilla warfare extended is quite limited. This is not the extensive Algeria, where control is practically impossible. No. Six percent of the land. "
 
Kassem notes the military has already sent the message of no tolerance for perceived attacks, as during a protest outside Republican Guard headquarters earlier this month. Friday's pro-military rally, he noted, is simply confirmation, as Egypt still struggles with the idea of political compromise.

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