Top gen­eral urges co-op­er­a­tion be­tween Is­lamists, op­po­si­tion as vi­o­lence con­tin­ues

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt

An Egyp­tian pro­tester shows off used am­mu­ni­tion af­ter the cap­ture of a state se­cu­rity ar­moured ve­hi­cle that demon­stra­tors com­man­deered dur­ing clashes with se­cu­rity forces and brought to Tahrir Square in Cairo on Tues­day. Egypt’s top gen­eral, Ab­dul Fatah al-Sisi, warned Tues­day that the coun­try was at risk of ‘col­lapse’ if the ‘con­tin­u­ing con­flict be­tween po­lit­i­cal forces’ did not cease. Matthew Fisher re­ports from Egypt,

Egypt’s top gen­eral pub­licly warned Tues­day that the coun­try was at risk of “col­lapse” if the “con­tin­u­ing con­flict be­tween po­lit­i­cal forces” did not end.

In a speech to cadets at a mil­i­tary academy that was later posted on Face­book, Gen­eral Ab­dul Fatah al-Sisi also said troops de­ployed in three cities a few hours north­east of Cairo on Sun­day were not there to quell days of bloody protests which had left more than 50 dead, but to guard the Suez Canal which has been one of the few eco­nomic en­gines in the coun­try that is still run­ning smoothly.

Sisi con­tra­dicted what Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi had said when he an­nounced emer­gency mea­sures on the week­end that put sol­diers on the streets of Port Said, Is­mailia and Suez for the next month and gave them spe­cial pow­ers to ar­rest civil­ians.

It seemed that Sisi, not Morsi was right about what those forces might ac­tu­ally do. For the sec­ond evening in a row, the mil­i­tary stood aside as many res­i­dents of the three towns on the Suez Canal ig­nored a curfew and held rel­a­tively peace­ful marches.

Taken to­gether, the two events sig­nalled that while Morsi and his government may have car­ried the coun­try by a wide mar­gin in elec­tions last year, they no longer held sway along the Suez, where res­i­dents have been at odds with Cairo’s author­ity for decades. They were also a sharp re­minder to Egyp­tians that the mil­i­tary re­mains a pow­er­ful force in the coun­try with huge busi­ness hold­ings and that it will not be shy about pro­tect­ing its in­ter­ests.

Sisi’s speech was prob­a­bly a not so sub­tle at­tempt to try to bully the Is­lamist government of Mo­hammed Morsi and its sec­u­lar and Chris­tian op­po­nents into fi­nally talk­ing with each other about their many dif­fer­ences. How­ever, un­til now there have been no hints that the op­po­si­tion will con­sider get­ting to­gether for talks with Morsi’s government, de­spite re­peated re­quests from the pres­i­den­tial palace to do so.

What Sisi had to say to the cadets Tues­day gave cre­dence to quiet sug­ges­tions that have been cir­cu­lat­ing that the only way for­ward for Egypt may have to be for the mil­i­tary to once again im­pose its will on the coun­try, as it had for half a cen­tury un­til the Egyp­tian rev­o­lu­tion two years ago. Un­der­lin­ing the depth of the cri­sis, Sisi, who is also the de­fence min­is­ter, fur­ther warned that the coun­try’s deep po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions threat­ened the wel­fare of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and were “a dan­ger­ous mat­ter that harms Egyp­tian na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Ri­ot­ing ap­peared to be abat­ing Tues­day in towns along the Suez, where AP re­ported that tanks were be­ing de­ployed for the first time. But there were fresh bursts of spo­radic vi­o­lence Tues­day near the cen­tre of Cairo. As the po­lice and the op­po­si­tion fought on one shore of the Nile, and Canada and other west­ern em­bassies kept their doors closed, a few me­tres away, at the Semi­ramis In­terCon­ti­nen­tal, which is pop­u­lar with jour­nal­ists be­cause it over­looks Tahrir Square, a group of young men in­vaded and wrecked the lobby be­fore be­ing chased out by se­cu­rity forces. There were re­ports that a sec­ond in­va­sion of the lux­ury ho­tel was un­der­way late Tues­day.

Other groups of pro­test­ers came un­der tear gas at­tack by po­lice in Cairo on Tues­day, par­tic­u­larly on and near a bridge that runs over the Nile and leads to the square. The high­light for those ri­ot­ers may have been when they cap­tured and burned an ar­moured car that had be­longed to the coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces.

It looks now as if there is lit­tle Morsi can do if the pro­test­ers are able to be­have with im­punity be­cause the se­cu­rity forces are pick­ing and choos­ing where and whether to in­ter­vene on the pres­i­dent’s be­half. The one good thing about this lat­est po­lit­i­cal drama in Egypt is that un­til now the Mus­lim Brother­hood has told its fol­low­ers to stay home. If they are turned loose at some point, vi­o­lence would es­ca­late spec­tac­u­larly, rais­ing the spec­tre of some kind of civil war in the Arab world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try.

The be­lea­guered government did of­fer a small fig leaf to the op­po­si­tion on Tues­day when a min­is­ter sug­gested that the coun­try’s con­tro­ver­sial new con­sti­tu­tion, which is the pre­text for many of the cur­rent demon­stra­tions, may be amended by a com­mit­tee of law pro­fes­sors and politi­cians rep­re­sent­ing what a semi-of­fi­cial state news or­ga­ni­za­tion called “pri­mary po­lit­i­cal forces.”

A lot more of such com­pro­mises will be re­quired by Morsi, the var­i­ous op­po­si­tion fac­tions and the se­cu­rity forces if Egypt’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis is not to fur­ther worsen in the weeks lead­ing up to par­lia­men­tary elec­tions still sched­uled for April.



Egyp­tian pro­test­ers clash with riot po­lice near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Tues­day. In­tense fight­ing forced the U.S. Em­bassy to sus­pend pub­lic ser­vices on Tues­day.


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