Egypt army issues threats ahead of demonstrations

Muslim Brotherhood accuses army of pushing the nation towards civil war

A campaign poster of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi with his face scratched out is seen in the city of Zagazig, in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya. Photograph: Maggie Fick/Reuters.

A campaign poster of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi with his face scratched out is seen in the city of Zagazig, in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya. Photograph: Maggie Fick/Reuters.

Thu, Jul 25, 2013, 21:14

Egypt’s army has threatened to turn its guns on those who use violence, its starkest warning yet ahead of what both sides expect will be a bloody showdown in the streets between supporters and opponents of deposed president Mohamed Morsi.

An army official said the military had issued an ultimatum to Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, giving the Islamist group until Saturday to sign up to a plan for political reconciliation which it has so far spurned.

The army has summoned Egyptians into the streets tomorrow and made clear it intends the day to mark a turning point in its confrontation with the followers of Mr Morsi, the elected leader the generals removed on July 3rd.

Mr Morsi’s Brotherhood, which has maintained a street vigil for a month with thousands of followers demanding Morsi’s return, has called its own crowds out for counter-demonstrations across the country in a “day to remove the coup”.

Both sides have dramatically escalated rhetoric ahead tomorrow’s demonstrations. The Brotherhood accused the army of pushing the nation towards civil war and committing a crime worse than destroying Islam’s holiest site.

The army issued its warning in a statement posted on a Facebook page. It will not “turn its guns against its people,” the statement said, “but it will turn them against black violence and terrorism which has no religion or nation”.

A military official said the army had given the Brotherhood 48 hours from this afternoon to join the political process. He did not reveal what the consequences would be if the Brotherhood refuses.

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called on Egyptians to take to the streets and give him a “mandate” to take action against the violence that has convulsed Egypt since he shunted its first freely elected president from power.

The Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that won repeated elections since the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, says it is the authorities themselves that have stirred up the violence to justify their crackdown.

The main anti-Morsi youth protest group, which has rallied behind the army, said its supporters were taking to the streets to “cleanse Egypt”.

The West is increasingly alarmed at the course taken by Egypt, a strategic hinge between the Middle East and North Africa, since the Arab Spring protests brought down Mubarak and ended decades of autocratic rule.

Signalling its displeasure, Washington has delayed delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Cairo. Today, the White House urged the army to exercise “maximum restraint and caution”.

The United States has yet to decide whether to call the military’s takeover a “coup”, language that would require it to halt $1.5 billion it sends in annual aid, mostly for the army.

For weeks, the authorities have rounded up some Brotherhood officials but tolerated the movement’s presence on the streets, with thousands of people attending its vigil demanding Mr Morsi’s return and tens of thousands appearing at its demonstrations.

That patience seems to have run out. Prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi, head of the interim cabinet installed by the army, said there was escalating violence by increasingly well-armed protesters, citing a bomb attack on a police station.

“The presence of weapons, intimidation, fear - this causes concern, especially when there are calls for many to come out tomorrow from different sides,” he told a news conference.

After a month in which close to 200 people have died in violence triggered by Mr Morsi’s downfall, many fear the protests will lead to more bloodshed.