Egypt army warns of crackdown on 'black violence'

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, speaking on state TV when he called on all Egyptians to take to the street. PHOTO | BBC. 

The Egyptian army has warned it will use force to combat "violence and terrorism", as the country braces for rival rallies planned for Friday.

Egypt's army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had earlier called for protests on Friday to give the military a mandate to confront "potential terrorism".

Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsy are also expected to demonstrate to demand his reinstatement.

The UN has called for his release; he was detained on July 3.

Mr Morsy was ousted by the army after mass protests against him on the anniversary of his win in Egypt's first democratic presidential elections.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Egyptian military to free Mr Morsy and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood "or have their cases reviewed transparently without delay", in a statement on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the US government said on Thursday that it does not intend to declare formally whether a military coup occurred in Egypt or not.

This follows weeks of debate on how the US would describe the recent unrest in Egypt, which could have had repercussions on its supply of aid to the country which - under US law - must stop in the event of a coup.

The Obama administration is not legally bound to draw conclusions over recent events and to make such a declaration would not be in the US interest, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told members of Congress.
Heightened rhetoric

The UN chief also urged supporters and opponents of Mr Morsy to act with restraint ahead of rival rallies planned for Friday, following the army's warning that it will use force to confront violence that has taken hold in the country.

"We reaffirm that the Egyptian armed forces... never uses its weapons against its own people but will do so against violence and black terrorism which has no faith and no nation," read a statement on a Facebook page affiliated to the Egyptian military.

Public unrest

The Tamarod protest movement that organised the protests which preceded Mr Morsy's removal from office has urged its supporters to take part in Friday's rallies in messages on social media.

"We call on all of the great Egyptian people to gather in the squares on Friday to officially demand that Mohammed Morsi be put on trial and to support the Egyptian armed forces in its coming war on terrorism," one such message read.

In his call for protests on Wednesday, Gen Sisi said he was not calling for public unrest and he urged national reconciliation. Military spokesmen have insisted that the army is not seeking to target any particular group.

However, the rhetoric from both camps has become sharper ahead of the expected rallies. The Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Mr Morsy, said Gen Sisi was "calling for civil war".

The Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader Mohammed Badie compared the army's removal of Mr Morsy to the destruction of one of Islam's holiest sites, the Kaaba in Mecca.

"I swear by God that what Sisi did in Egypt is more criminal than if he had carried an axe and demolished the holy Kaaba stone by stone," Mr Badie said.

Some analysts say the military could be readying to move against sit-ins by Mr Morsy's supporters, including one in front of the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in a Cairo suburb.

Mohammed Morsy narrowly won the presidential election in June 2012 to become Egypt's first democratically elected president, but his opponents accused him of trying to impose an Islamist agenda on the country.

Following weeks of often violent protests, the Egyptian military removed him from office and installed an interim government earlier this month.

The military-backed interim president, Adly Mansour, has set out a roadmap towards a revision of the constitution introduced by Mr Morsy and for fresh elections in early 2014, but this has has been rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hisham Qandil, who was prime minister under Mr Morsy proposed his own roadmap on Thursday, involving:

  • the release of those detained by the army since Mr Morsy's removal
  • an independent investigation into the deaths of at least 51 people at the Presidential Guards HQ earlier this month
  • a delegation to be allowed to visit Mr Morsy to check on his health
  • a halt to protest marches, with both sides agreeing to hold rallies only in specific locations

There has been no official response to Mr Qandil's suggestions, and military spokesmen have previously given the Muslim Brotherhood a deadline of Saturday to join the official process.

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