Egyptian army leader makes a vow to suppress violent protests
CAIRO — Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi vowed that the military will suppress violent protests and called Sunday on the Muslim Brotherhood, the leading Islamist group, to reassess its future.
Sisi, the army lieutenant general who led last month's ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy, spoke as Egypt continued reeling from days of bloody street clashes.
More than 800 people have been killed since Wednesday.
Other Egyptian officials pushed back against international criticism of the violence.
A Brotherhood lawyer claimed more than 2,500 Morsy supporters have been arrested.
“Whoever thought that Egypt and Egyptians will kneel down under the weight of violence needs to reconsider,” Sisi said in a televised speech to military and police officials. “We will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people, or the torching of the nation and terrorizing of its citizens.”
Morsy supporters had called for a week of demonstrations but turned out in far smaller numbers in the capital. Larger protests were reported in several provinces.
Similar marches on Friday left 173 people dead, officials said.
At a news conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said the Brotherhood could be banned if it promotes continued violence.
Ministry employees played videos of Islamists firing weapons during Friday protests and as security forces cleared two Islamist protest sites earlier in the week. One video showed a man carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher during an attack on a Giza police station; 11 police were killed and some of their bodies mutilated, officials said.
They also distributed photographs of armed protesters and accused Western media of largely ignoring Islamist violence.
Fahmy said Egyptians “are much angrier” about the Islamist violence and the West's reaction “and want to move forward alone,” without the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies.
“That would be a wrong decision … Once we establish security in Egypt, we need to have a dialogue with each other,” he said.
Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic Christian activist group, said 38 churches were destroyed and 28 damaged in Islamist attacks. It said Coptic businesses and homes also were targeted; six Christians were reported killed and seven kidnapped.
The group said the Brotherhood is “no longer a political faction … it is a terrorist and criminal group aiming to destroy the Egyptian state.”
Attacks against Egypt's Christian minority rose after the 2011 revolution and continued during Morsy's presidency.
In his speech, Sisi said he had warned of political and religious conflict leading to a “dark tunnel.” Continued street fighting could leave “thousands, millions” dead, he said.
He said the Brotherhood, during its yearlong rule, became convinced the judiciary, military, media and other political forces conspired against it. He accused the ousted Morsy of preferring “chaos — me or blood” as the country's future.
“So, don't people have the right to say no?” Sisi asked. “The Egyptian people have the free will to choose who they want to rule them. … The protection of the Egyptian state comes from the army, the police and the Egyptian people.”
He insisted that the military has no interest in ruling Egypt, only in defending its people.
“Sisi is not reading from a pre-written speech,” said a popular Egyptian political analyst who blogs under the pen name Big Pharaoh. “Love him or hate him, he's a brilliant speaker.”
After the speech, an Egyptian television channel showed a video of Wednesday's attack on the Islamists' Raba'a Adawiya encampment, dubbed with music from the soundtrack of “Rocky.”
In it, Morsy supporters are seen firing on police.
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.