CAIRO (AP) — The military chief who ousted Egypt's elected president called on the public Wednesday to take to the streets to give him and the police a mandate to tackle "violence and terrorism," in an address that pointed to a possible move against supporters of the Islamist leader.
The call by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, made in a speech to a graduation ceremony for military cadets, underlined how the military chief is the source of real power in Egypt despite the creation of a civilian government after the July 3 coup that removed Mohammed Morsi.
His comments appeared designed to secure a public cover for what could be a move to dismantle sit-in camps by Morsi's supporters in Cairo and elsewhere, as well as a campaign against Islamic radicals that have stepped up attacks on security forces in Sinai. El-Sissi called for a mass turnout in Friday rallies to give him a "mandate" to do what is "necessary" to stop bloodshed.
A coalition of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and allied factions denounced his speech, calling it an "open invitation" to civil war. Their coalition plans protests and marches of its own on Friday, raising the potential for violence between the two camps.
El-Sissi removed Morsi after four days of protests by millions of Egyptians demanding his ouster after a year in office, and the military says its goal is to set the country on a path to democracy. But the move has set top ally Washington in an uncomfortable position: The U.S. has implicitly accepted Morsi's removal, even while the Obama administration reviews whether it constitutes a military coup, which under U.S. law would require a shut-off of $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt's army.
On Wednesday, Washington announced it is delaying delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt as it conducts the review — its first direct action in response to the ouster. Still, officials cautioned they had not yet decided whether to suspend military aid more broadly.
Since Morsi's fall, his Islamist supporters have taken to the streets vowing to continue protests until he is reinstated.
Clashes have erupted multiple times between the Islamists and Morsi opponents or security forces in Cairo and other cities. Around 150 people have been killed, a majority from the pro-Morsi side, including more than 50 killed by troops during clashes outside a military facility in eastern Cairo.
Each side accuses the other of starting the violence. Throughout, the military and its allied media have depicted the protesters as a dangerous armed movement. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies say their protests are peaceful. The group accuses troops or thugs hired by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, of attacking pro-Morsi rallies.
At the same time, Islamic militants have stepped up attacks on security forces in Sinai Peninsula since Morsi's fall, killing 16 soldiers and policemen and 11 civilians and raising fears of a wave of militant violence.
On Wednesday, suspected militants killed two soldiers and wounded three others in four separate attacks in Sinai. In a separate incident, three suspected militants were killed when their explosives-laden car blew up apparently prematurely just outside el-Arish, a coastal city in northern Sinai that is a stronghold of radical Islamists, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
In the early hours Wednesday, a bomb went off outside the main police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, wounding 19 people. Presidential spokesman Ahmed el-Muslemani called the attack an act of terrorism.
The Mansoura bombing is a possible sign that a militant campaign could be spreading from Sinai to Egypt's heartland, where so far the violence has been mostly restricted to street clashes between the two sides.
El-Sissi's address in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria was a strong sign that the top general is the source of real power in Egypt, despite his assertions that authority has been handed completely to the civilian government set up after Morsi's fall and led by interim President Adly Mansour.
Wearing dark sunglasses under his military cap and a uniform dotted with medals, el-Sissi said "every honorable and honest Egyptian must come out ... Please, shoulder your responsibility with me, your army and the police and show your size and steadfastness in the face of what is going on."
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