Egypt was on edge yesterday ahead of rival protests by the military and Islamists, as the government declared a “war on terrorism” to end violence convulsing the country since former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow.
Police said they were planning massive reinforcements to secure today’s rallies, which raise the prospect of further bloodshed between Islamists demanding Morsi’s reinstatement and an array of opponents, including the military.
The fugitive leader of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, yesterday urged Egyptians in a statement to peacefully make a “stand for freedom and legitimacy, and against the bloody coup.”
The US said on Wednesday it was “very concerned” by Egyptian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s call for a rally to justify a crackdown on what he called “terrorism and violence.”
Washington, which has close ties with Egypt’s military, also announced it had decided to suspend a plan to supply its ally with F-16 warplanes.
The Brotherhood and allied Islamist groups had denounced al-Sisi’s call as “an announcement of civil war,” and said they would press on with their own demonstrations today.
Egyptian newspapers, mostly hostile to the Brotherhood, featured al-Sisi’s call, made in a speech on Wednesday, in their front page headlines.
The state-owned al-Akhbar ran a banner, partially in large red font, reading: “Sisi’s message has been delivered. And the people respond: We mandate you.”
“Sisi calls. And the people respond,” reported the leading independent daily, al-Masry al-Youm.
In Qatar, a Muslim organization headed by the Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi issued an edict against obeying Sisi’s call, saying it could lead to “civil war.”
The general’s unusual demand — the military insists he is merely a defense minister and deputy premier in the army-installed Cabinet — came after calls for a crackdown on Islamists staging sometimes bloody protests since the July 3 coup.
“Next Friday [today], all honorable Egyptians must take to the street to give me a mandate and command to end terrorism and violence,” the general said, wearing dark sunglasses as he addressed a military graduation ceremony near Alexandria.
A spokesman for army-installed interim Egyptian president Adly Mansour later said Egypt “has begun a war on terrorism.”
Senior Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian said Morsi loyalists would not be intimidated by the army boss’ call for mass rallies.
“Your threat will not prevent millions from continuously protesting,” Erian wrote on Facebook.
Tamarod, the movement that spearheaded the mass anti-Morsi rallies that led up to the coup, called on supporters to take to the streets again today to support the army.
“We call on the great Egyptian people to rally on Friday across Egypt to demand... Morsi’s trial and to support the military in its upcoming war on terrorism.”