Egypt's interim leadership is urging peaceful protests on Friday following a speech Wednesday by Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who called on Egyptians to take to the streets and support the military’s mandate to fight "violence and terrorism
"We urge citizens to commit to peacefulness, and the state is solely responsible for security," Ahmed al-Meslemany
, media adviser to Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour, said Thursday.
The Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi say they will go ahead with their own rallies on Friday, despite General Sissi's statement. They have planned at least 30 protests
across the country.
Senior Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed el-Beltagy says General Sissi is calling for what amounts to a civil war as a means of protecting “this military coup
" and that he is calling for mass rallies in order to cement his status as de facto leader.
"He is proving that he is the actual ruler of the country, and that the president, his vice president and the government do not hold any power,” Beltagy said.
Meanwhile, the Tamarod movement
that organized protests last month that led to Morsi’s ouster has welcomed Sissi’s remarks. Tamarod leader Mahmoud Bahr
called on Egyptians Wednesday to support the military in Friday protests, saying the movement is happy that the armed forces will confront the “violence and terrorism” practiced by the Brotherhood.
But some observers worry that Sissi’s remarks could be interpreted by some, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, as a call to civil war.
Wadah Khanfar, journalist and president of the pro-democracy think tank Sharq Forum
, worries that Egypt may be learning that violence is the only method of political engagement.
“Sissi, by his speech, put aside the civilian government facade he appointed and wanted to use as fig leaf, has exposed himself as the new pharaoh of Egypt,” he writes in the Huffington Post
Addressing those concerns, Egypt’s prime minister today reminded the country that the interim government “is responsible for all of its sons,” and that peaceful protests are allowed, but the government will punish anyone who violates the law.
In an editorial on the Arabist
blogsite, reporter/analyst Steve Negus suggests Sissi has taken a potentially risky move by injecting himself and the military so strongly into mass politics. He offers several possible motives:
First, Sissi’s move may reflect the military’s growing fears that the Islamist insurgency in the Sinai could be spreading into the rest of the country.
Negus suggests that Sissi may be feeling pressure to deliver peace and security to the general population that last month turned to the military to help oust Morsi. Negus also says that the defense chief may simply be fed up with the Islamists “thumbing their noses” at the military through ongoing rallies and acts of violence:
“As the Brothers themselves learn, whoever is charge ultimately loses credibility when disorder is prolonged, even if the state swears up and down that it's the fault of opposition protesters or do-nothing police,” Negus writes.
Finally, he states that the ongoing popularity of the military in Egypt may have prompted Sissi to run for president.
The U.S. State Department has expressed concern that Friday’s demonstrations could turn violent.
“We are concerned that clashes would make it very difficult to reconcile and get ahead of cycles of unrest and instability,” spokesperson Jen Psaki
told reporters at Wednesday’s daily briefing.
“We remain focused on encouraging the interim government to move towards an inclusive process which includes elections – civilian elections, and we’re monitoring closely steps they’re taking to do just that,” she said.