Army chief warns of Egypt's collapse

Wed, Jan 30, 2013, 00:00

In a warning unprecedented in the history of independent Egypt, the army chief yesterday said the continuation of the power struggle among political forces and popular unrest could “lead to the collapse of the state”.

US-trained general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s assessment followed rebellious rallies by tens of thousands in the three Suez Canal cities despite the imposition of an overnight curfew and military law. Port Said proclaimed its independence and Ismailiya staged a football game at midnight while protests continued in central Cairo and armed thugs trashed the lobby of the luxury Semiramis Hotel near Tahrir Square.

He said: “The continuation of the conflict between the different political forces and their differences over how the country should be run could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations.” The army, which, he said, belongs to all Egyptians what- ever their affiliations, remains the “solid and cohesive block” on which the state stands.

He pointed out that the army’s deployment in Port Said and Suez provinces is designed to protect the “strategic inte- rests of the state, at the forefront of which is the vital Suez Canal”.

‘Very real threat’

The general acknowledged the “very real threat” posed by political, economic and social challenges which, the opposition says, president Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, has failed to address since taking office last June.

General Sisi also indirectly warned the government not to try to extend Brotherhood control over “state institutions” as this would hurt “national security and the nation’s future”. Although the general said the right to protest would be respected, he ordered tanks to deploy in Port Said, a city of 600,000, as funerals were held for six killed in clashes. Mour- ners chanted, “Leave, leave!” at Mr Morsi.

The general’s tough words, directed at both the opposi- tion and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, show that the army command, which ruled Egypt from 1952 until last summer, is losing patience with their inability to resolve their disputes.

The Brotherhood has monopolised power since Mr Morsi, who hails from the movement, stripped the generals of execu- tive and legislative authority last August. His subsequent as- sumption of sweeping powers to ram through a fundamentalist-drafted constitution has alienated the secular opposition and urban Egyptians who have taken to the streets to protest in Cairo, Alexandria, and the Canal cities.

After Mr Morsi’s invitation to opposition leaders to take part in national dialogue was rejected, he formed a committee to review the contested constitution adopted by a rushed referendum last month and offered the opposition six seats on the body.

Call for marches

Its response has been to call for marches on three successive nights, beginning last night, from different Cairo squares to Tahrir Square. Each march is named for one of the cities under curfew and begins at the time curfew commences.

Protesters, activists and human rights advocates have charged the police and security agencies of using excessive force when dealing with demonstrators. At least 60 have died and 1,000 suffered injury since last Friday.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay commented on the high toll and urged the government “to take urgent measures to en- sure that law enforcement personnel never again use disporportionate or excessive force against protesters”.