Egyptian army steps in to demand political truce

CAIRO,  (Reuters) – Egypt’s army stepped in to a deepening political crisis yesterday to demand that the Islamist government and its opponents settle their differences and warned that it would act to stop violence spinning out of control.

Issued a week before mass rallies to demand the resignation of President Mohamed Mursi, and following days of friction and increasingly aggressive rhetoric between factions, the statement by the armed forces chief was the most powerful since generals ceded control to civilians after Mursi’s election a year ago.

“There is a state of division in society,” General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Facebook. “Prolonging it poses a danger to the Egyptian state. There must be consensus among all.

“We will not remain silent as the country slips into a conflict that is hard to control.”

There seemed no direct threat to the president from an army that seems to accept its new constitutional role. After Mursi met Sisi, a presidency source called it a “positive statement” reflecting the army’s “patriotic role” and “aimed at defusing the rising tension between the different political factions”.

But it adds to pressure on Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood to include opponents in rapidly forging consensual policies to address Egypt’s economic and social problems. For liberals, too, who also welcomed the statement, it also pushes them to abandon their campaign to overturn last year’s election result.

A military source said clashes, aggressive rhetoric and damage to property in recent days had prompted the intervention,
in which Sisi warned of a “dark tunnel” ahead and urged leaders to use the days before the protest rallies to find agreement.

Some Islamists who staged a rally on Friday in support of Mursi derided the military, which oversaw decades of oppression. Two men died on Saturday as a result of factional fighting.

“He is stepping closer to the centre stage of politics,” Gamal Soltan, a political analyst, said of Sisi. “This is the strongest statement from a military official … This is explicitly saying the armed forces will intervene.”

“WILL OF THE PEOPLE”

Neither the Islamists nor their opponents want a return to the six decades of effective military rule they thought they ended with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak of 2011. Yet some Egyptians, frustrated by deadlock, have called for the army to resume the managerial role it took on after pushing Mubarak aside.

The army is held in high esteem by nearly all Egyptians.

Sisi, appointed defence minister by Mursi, insisted he would defend democracy and many analysts believe the army, which has major business interests, is content with its new status.

“The will of the Egyptian nation is what governs us and we protect it with honour,” Sisi said. “We cannot permit a violation of the will of the people.”

That language implied reproach to both sides – suggesting he disapproved of opposition hopes of overturning Mursi’s election but also the president’s inability to overcome furious criticism of the Islamists to persuade his opponents to cooperate.

“The army is trying to send a signal to both sides,” said Nathan Brown, an expert on Egypt’s transition at George Washington University. But because elements in the opposition favoured an army move against the Islamists, he added: “This statement will please one side more than the other.”

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