CAIRO: Egypt’s army chief called on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) for rallies to back a crackdown on “terrorism and violence,” in comments Islamists denounced as a call to “civil war” ahead of their own protests.
With tensions already running high three weeks after the military ousted president Mohamed Morsi, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for demonstrations raises the prospect of further deadly violence.
The United States, which has close ties to the Egyptian military, said it was “very concerned” by Sisi’s call and decided to suspend a plan to supply the country with F-16 warplanes.
Sisi made his unprecedented move in a speech broadcast live on state television.
“Next Friday, all honorable Egyptians must take to the street to give me a mandate and command to end terrorism and violence,” said the general, wearing dark sunglasses as he addressed a military graduation ceremony near Alexandria.
A spokesman for army-installed interim president Adly Mansour later said Egypt “has begun a war on terrorism.”
Sisi’s call for protests was aimed at “preserving the state,” said spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani, in comments carried by the official Middle East News Agency.
A coalition of Islamists led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood said it would press ahead with its own rallies on Friday.
“Sisi’s threats are an announcement of civil war,” the group said, while warning of the danger of “massacres committed under a false popular cover.”
Nearly 170 people have died in political unrest since the end of June, many of them in clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents.