El-Sisi, Morsi rallies to face-off Friday

Osman El Sharnoubi, Friday 26 Jul 2013

Egypt braces itself for possibly violent confrontation on eve of 'anti-terrorism' demonstration; prominent groups weigh in with support and condemnation of army chief's call to protest

Egyptian protesters carry photos of deposed president Mohamed Morsi and army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, (Photo: (L) Reuters, (R) AP).

Rival protests are expected in Egypt on Friday between supporters and opponents of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, following weeks of bloody clashes between both camps and a gradual escalation in the military's rhetoric against violence.

Egypt's army has vowed to change its strategy in dealing with the violence that has erupted since the popularly-backed removal of the former president on 3 July.

Since Morsi's ouster, clashes between supporters and opponents of the deposed president have left tens of civilian deaths on both sides. Militants in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have carried out daily attacks against security forces, killing at least 20 policemen and soldiers.

Addressing the instability, Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi – the commander behind Morsi's ouster – called on Egyptians to give the army and the police a mandate to combat "violence and terrorism" via public demonstrations on Friday.

Heeding El-Sisi's call

Egypt's main non-Islamist groups have announced their participation in Friday's protests. Egypt's National Salvation Front (NSF), a grouping of the major liberal and leftist parties and movements, has called on Egyptians to take to the streets.

"Millions of Egyptians will take to the street to stress their unyielding rejection of bloodshed and terrorism from members of a political current who continue to reject reconciliation," the NSF wrote in a statement.

The "political current" in question is the Muslim Brotherhood – the group who propelled Morsi to the presidency – and its allies, who have rejected anything less than Morsi’s reinstatement as president.

The NSF accused the Brotherhood of silently regarding the Sinai attacks and the killing of opponents as a "legitimate" means of protesting Morsi's removal.

It insisted that the roadmap setting a framework for parliamentary and presidential elections, put forth by Egypt's Interim President Adly Mansour, be followed.

Joining the NSF in response to El-Sisi's request was the 'Rebel' (Tamarod) movement, which initiated the anti-Morsi protest campaign that led to his removal from power.

The 30 June Front, a newly established group including some of Rebel's activists, also called on Egyptians to take part in Friday's protests. Both the NSF and 30 June said they would protest against "terrorism," but insisted that the army and police don't need a mandate to fight civil violence, but rather it is their duty to do so.

Brotherhood warns of civil war

Responding to El-Sisi's statement, the Anti-Coup Pro-Democracy Alliance headed by the Muslim Brotherhood accused him of issuing an "explicit call for civil war."

The Brotherhood, who has organised daily protests in the past month, came out severely against El-Sisi – the defence minister who was appointed by Morsi himself – and accused the army of staging a coup against a legitimate, democratically elected president.

"This speech is an incitement and a clear evidence of the state of confusion and loss of mind experienced by the bloody Putschists. It resembles Bashar Al-Assad's speech that preceded his war against the Syrian people where he requested a similar mandate," the statement read.

While Morsi supporters draw similarities between El-Sisi and Al-Assad, whose government is engaged in a civil war with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and other rebels, Morsi opponents accuse the Brotherhood of calling for defections within the military.

On several occasions, the Brotherhood has spoken admirably about the military, assuring that the army would stand with the "legitimate president" and reiterating that El-Sisi's move would lead to internal divisions due to "majority" support for Morsi.

The Brotherhood has called for its own mass protests on Friday against what it has referred to as the "bloody coup" since 8 July, when the military killed at least 50 pro-Morsi protesters outside the Republican Guard headquarters due to claims of an armed attack against security personnel.

Regarding Friday's protests, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan issued a statement making implicit comparisons between the situation of Morsi's supporters and that of the Muslim Prophet Mohamed in his battle against opponents.

The army's ultimatum

The army stepped up its anti-"terrorism" rhetoric on Thursday when it issued a statement entitled "the final chance," giving Morsi supporters 48-hours to "join the nation in preparation to launch into the future."

The military-sponsored political roadmap, jointly agreed upon by Morsi's opposition, included a national reconciliation component launched by the presidency on Wednesday.  Neither Morsi supporters nor the Salafist Nour Party, who listed several pre-conditions to participation, attended the session.

In the statement, the army vowed to change its strategy "in dealing with violence and terrorism" during Friday's protests, saying it wouldn't allow Egypt’s security and stability to be compromised.

"The Egyptian Armed Forces will never raise its weapons in the face of its people," the statement concluded.

While the main opposition groups issued support for the army’s call, some remain skeptical given recent experiences of army leadership.  Attacks on civilians during the military’s interim rule following Mubarak’s ouster, including one that left at least 27 dead in October 2011, tarnished the army’s image for many.

The pro-democracy April 6 Youth Movement and left-wing Revolutionary Socialists have rejected the call to protest.

"Whatever crimes the Brotherhood has committed … we do not give army chief El-Sisi our authority. We will not go into the streets on Friday offering a blank cheque to commit massacres," the Revolutionary Socialists said in a statement on Wednesday.

Fearing a return to the unchecked power enjoyed by security forces during Hosni Mubarak’s long reign, April 6 said the army needs no mandate to carry out its "national responsibility" and urged the army to stop violence through legal means, not exceptional measures.

Violence following Morsi's ouster has led to over 200 deaths and several thousand injuries. On Tuesday, an explosive device was detonated in Egypt's Nile Delta governorate of Mansoura, killing a policeman and injuring almost 20. The Brotherhood said the explosion was an attempt by Egyptian security to frame them.

Friday’s "anti-violence" protests have been condoned by a number of Egypt's private satellite channels, which say their entertainment programming will be cancelled in order to cover the rallies.

The interior ministry said it has enacted an "unprecedented" security plan to secure tomorrow's protests amid fears that the rival rallies will end in violent confrontations.

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