Egypt’s military chief warned yesterday that the political crisis sweeping the country could lead to the collapse of the state, as thousands defied curfews and the death toll from days of rioting rose to 52.
“The continuing conflict between political forces and their differences concerning the management of the country could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations,” General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who is also the Egyptian defense minister, said on his Facebook page.
He further warned that the political, economic, social and security problems facing Egypt constitute “a threat to the country’s security and stability,” and vowed to defend vital infrastructure, including the Suez Canal.
Sissi’s warning came as medics reported another three people killed in the violence sweeping Egypt, pushing to at least 52 the death toll from five days of clashes.
Two people died in fighting between protesters and security forces in the riot-hit canal city of Port Said, and one was shot dead in Cairo when protesters and police clashed near Tahrir Square, the capital’s iconic hub of protest.
On Sunday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi imposed a month-long state of emergency and nighttime curfews on Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez, the three provinces most affected by the rioting, but witnesses said thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of the three Suez Canal cities on Monday night in defiance of the curfews.
The protesters chanted slogans against Islamist rule in Egypt.
“Fall, fall the rule of the guide [of the Muslim Brotherhood],” they said, referring to Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
Egypt has already deployed troops to Port Said and Suez provinces, at each end of the canal that Sissi said the army would defend.
“The deployment of the army in Port Said and Suez aims to protect strategic infrastructure, especially the Suez Canal, which we will not allow to be harmed,” Sissi said.
However, he said the army’s task was difficult.
It does “not want to confront Egyptian citizens, who have a right to protest,” but it “has to protect vital institutions. That is why protests must be peaceful,” he said.
With the unrest showing no signs of abating, Egypt’s Islamist-dominated Senate on Monday ratified a law granting the armed forces powers of arrest.
Opposition groups and disgruntled Egyptians accuse Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists of monopolizing power and say the revolution failed to reach its goals of social justice.
The violence first erupted on Thursday last week. It gained momentum on Friday, when protests marking the second anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak turned into clashes around the country.
The crisis looks set to deepen after the National Salvation Front, a coalition of mainly liberal and leftist movements, called for nationwide protests on Friday after rejecting an offer from Morsi to hold talks.
“We will not participate in dialogue that is empty of content,” leading dissident Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters after a meeting.
The bloc wants the formation of a national salvation government and the amendment of the Islamist-drafted constitution before it agrees to any talks.