CAIRO - Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said in a televised address to the nation on Thursday that Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip are "unacceptable" and would lead to instability in the region.
There was little public reaction in Egypt Thursday to Israel's military operation in Gaza, as businesses and public institutions were closed for an Islamic holiday.
Overnight, a small crowd gathered near the Egyptian foreign ministry, demanding that Cairo cut diplomatic ties with Israel. Israel's ambassador to Egypt left the country Wednesday night, but Israeli officials say that the embassy remains "open for business."
Egyptian officials later announced that Cairo was withdrawing its ambassador to Israel. Arab media say this is the third time Egypt has withdrawn its ambassador since the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
A handful of Egyptian political leaders condemned the Israeli military action. Morsi said in his speech that he had urged U.S. President Barack Obama to help put an end to the Israeli operation.
He said he spoke to President Obama just before dawn about how to stop what he called Israel's aggression and how to achieve peace and security in the region by preventing acts that cause bloodshed.
A number of Egyptian Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are calling for a "million man" demonstration on Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square. But some observers doubt that large crowds will turn out.
Said Sadek, who teaches political sociology at the American University in Cairo, said Egyptian society is divided over so many issues that he does not foresee a strong response.
"What we are seeing today is just rhetorical war, some diplomatic gestures here and there, but it doesn't lead to anything. Some of the opposition forces, especially the Islamists, are seizing what happened in Gaza to settle scores in the domestic conflict in the country," said Sadek. "People are very much divided, so even calls that there will be a demonstration in Tahrir Square tomorrow... I don't think it will get a million [demonstrators]."
Sadek said many Egyptians have used social media to criticize the government's strong response to the Gaza operation. He points out that some are angry that the government barely reacted to another recent incident where Hamas or its sympathizers allegedly killed 20 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai.
Arab League foreign ministers are due to meet Saturday in Cairo to discuss the Israeli military operation in Gaza. The ministers met several days ago with their European Union counterparts in the Egyptian capital to discuss both the crisis in Syria and a Palestinian request to join the United Nations.