Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on Sunday that protecting the “people’s will” is a greater honour than ruling the country.
In a speech at a meeting with police and military leaders on Sunday, which was recorded and broadcasted shortly afterwards on Egyptian television, the leader of the armed forces said that he warned that political conflict would develop into religious fighting and drag Egypt down a "dark tunnel.”
The country has been increasingly polarised amid recent deadly violence which left hundreds dead, following security forces’ dispersal of protest camps by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday. The bloody crackdown left more than 600 dead and sparked retaliatory violence nationwide.
Violence continued over the last several days, with further clashes claiming dozens of lives.
On the dispersal of the main sit-in by Morsi supporters, which was situated in Cairo’s Nasr City district, El-Sisi said: “Those who were saying we should have dispersed the camp peacefully – we tried … But when army and police forces get attacked by snipers deployed on top of buildings, how do you expect them to react?”
“In such a massive sit-in, it is enough to have some 20, 30 or 50 armed men to turn it into a bloody event.”
“We were given a mandate by the public to deal with potential terrorism, and we acted accordingly … we are keen not to spill blood, but are they?” he continued.
The army's intervention to oust Morsi last month stemmed from its assessment of the “national security" situation, El-Sisi said, saying there were no plans "to exclude anyone" from the political process.
In a message to supporters of Egypt's toppled Islamist leaders, El-Sisi said "there is place for everyone in Egypt," urging them to reassess their position and acknowledge that "legitimacy is owned by the people."
El-Sisi vowed not to stand silent in the face of the "destruction of the country" and attempts to "transfer the wrong image to the international media" about street bloodshed. "Whoever thinks violence will make Egypt and Egyptians bow must reconsider," he said.
El-Sisi went on to chide western allies and international media who "denied Egyptians their free will and genuine desire for a change," in their support to the army to fight "terrorism."
"We have provided many chances…to end the crisis entirely peacefully." He said. "We invited the former regime to rebuild the country's path to democracy and a [have] role in the political process instead of violence and destroying the Egyptian state," he added.
“I swear that none of the decisions that were made lately by the armed forces came after talks with any other country,” El-Sisi said, to applause.
El-Sisi went on to express gratitude to Egypt's Arab allies, namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, for the support they have given to his country amid recent bouts of unrest .
Western states, including US, Germany, and Britain, have heaped pressure on Egypt for an end to violence and an exercise of self-restraint, with the European Union warning on Sunday it would review its relations with Egypt. But not all international responses were critical. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah pledged his country's support to Egypt in its battle against "terrorism.”
The Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE, have pledged $12 billion in total aid package to Egypt following Morsi's overthrow. Bahrain also voiced support for a delay assault by Egypt's security on Morsi loyalist, saying it was the state's role to restore stability and protect citizens.