Egypt army chief warns state could collapse

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2013 at 6:09 pm •  Published: January 29, 2013
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Mourners on Tuesday spoke of police on rooftops and roving in armored vehicles firing wildly during the weekend mayhem around the police station and prison in the city's al-Arab district, hitting bystanders blocks away. On Sunday, a funeral of some of those killed came under fire — residents blame police — causing panic as mourners dropped some of the bodies they were carrying on the ground.

Ayman el-Sherbini said his 23-year-old brother Osama was walking in the al-Arab district on the way to buy food when a bullet hit him in the face, killing him. El-Sherbini, who wore the beard of a conservative Muslim, blamed Morsi and said his Islamist leadership had brought shame on religious people. "Now people spit in the face of anyone with a beard because of Morsi," he said.

Women in face veils screamed anti-Morsi slogans in the funeral march. One woman, Faten el-Tahan, a government worker in a conservative Muslim headscarf, said she wished her "hands were cut off" the day she voted for Morsi in last year's presidential election.

"My children told me not to vote for him," she said. "I thought he was a faithful man who knows God. But he turned out to be not faithful and he doesn't know God. I made a big mistake."

The city now feels under siege. Shops are closed. Fearing the violence, trucks have stopped bringing in produce. Drivers refused to bring in oxygen supplies for a private hospital after their truck came under fire by unknown assailants, a worker at the hospital said. The city is awash with weapons and known criminals are seen on motorcycles brandishing automatic weapons.

Seaside hotels are totally empty during a mid-year school holiday when normally they are full of Egyptian tourists. Soot, shattered glass and burnt furniture are scattered outside police and army clubs which are located in front of the cemetery where slain protesters were buried and which were attacked by protesters.

Tuesday evening, Morsi's office issued a statement saying the curfew and state of emergency could be lifted or shortened if the security situation improves, apparently trying to ease the anger.

Throughout the crisis, presidential officials and the Brotherhood have depicted the unrest as caused by thugs and supporters of Mubarak's regime — and they have suggested that the political opposition is using the turmoil to overturn the results of elections that Islamists have repeatedly won the past year, bringing them to power.

The opposition contends the crisis is caused by Brotherhood attempts to monopolize power and can only be resolved if it makes major concessions to loosen its grip, including forming a national unity government and rewriting contentious parts of the Islamist-backed constitution.

The Brotherhood has dismissed those demands, and Morsi has instead invited the opposition to join a broad dialogue conference. The opposition has refused it as mere window dressing.

The army chief's comments suggested the military's impatience with politicians' power struggles.

"The continuation of the conflict between the different political forces and their differences over how the country should be run could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations," el-Sissi said, speaking to military cadets in comments posted on the armed forces' Facebook page.

He also spoke of a "realistic threat" facing the nation from its mounting political, economic and social problems.

El-Sissi was appointed by Morsi as military chief and defense minister last autumn when the president sidelined the armed forces' top brass, who had ruled the country for nearly 17 months following Mubarak's fall.

El-Sissi is widely believed to be against direct rule by the generals, seeing it as damaging to the armed forces' reputation. Throughout Morsi's 7-month-old administration, he and the Islamist leadership appear to have reached an understanding on working together.

There was an earlier instance when el-Sissi appeared to feel compelled to intervene in politics, when he invited politicians to an informal gathering to ease tensions amid protests and clashes in November and December. The gathering was called off and some Brotherhood officials later suggested they felt el-Sissi had overstepped his bounds.

His comments Tuesday raise the question of how strongly the armed forces will support Morsi if no resolution is found.

In Port Said, many residents said Morsi and the Brotherhood had shown they were not qualified to govern.

"Port Said has fallen from Morsi's grip," Ibrahim Nasr, an activist, said. "The calls for independence are a message to Morsi to forget about the Canal cities."

___

Keath reported from Cairo.

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