Egypt army chief warns state could collapse
BY MAGGIE MICHAEL & LEE KEATH Associated Press
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
1/30/13 at 4:09 AM
Egyptians burying their dead from a wave of political violence vented their fury at Egypt's Islamist president and the Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday, demanding his ouster and virtually declaring a revolt against his rule, as the head of the military warned Egypt may collapse under the weight of its turmoil.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi' strongly worded comments, his first since the crisis began, appeared aimed at pushing both sides in Egypt's political divide to reconcile and find a solution to the rapidly spreading protests and riots across much of the country the past six days.
But his breaking of his silence falls heaviest on President Mohammed Morsi, who has been unable to contain the unrest by trying a tough hand, as protesters defied his declaration of a month-long state of emergency and curfew in Port Said and two nearby cities.
At least 60 people have been killed and hundreds injured since Thursday in clashes between police and protesters angry over what they call Islamists' moves to monopolize power and failure to address the country's multiple woes. In his comments, el-Sissi signaled the military would not move to put down protesters, saying troops are in a "grave predicament," forced to balance between "avoiding confrontation" with citizens and protecting state institutions.
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.
In Cairo on Tuesday, rock-throwing protesters clashed with police firing tear gas for another day in battles that escalated after nightfall near Tahrir Square. The mayhem forced the nearby U.S. Embassy to suspend public services Tuesday, and the night before masked men tried to rob the neighboring five-star Semiramis Hotel, a Cairo landmark, trashing the lobby before being forced out.
Protesters in many cities around the country have battled police, cut off roads and railway lines and besieged government offices and police stations. But the most dramatic fraying of state control has been in the three cities along the Suez Canal, particularly Port Said, at the canal's Mediterranean end.
Violence exploded in Port Said on Saturday, leaving more than 40 dead since. The provincial governor has gone into hiding. Police are hunkered down. Tanks are in the streets by government buildings, but army troops have balked at enforcing Morsi's curfew order. Residents in all three cities flouted the restrictions with huge marches in the streets Monday and Tuesday night.
Mourners carried images of young men shot to death by police and accused Morsi of ordering the security forces to open fire. Many said the Islamist president should be put on trial like ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising against his rule, though he has been granted a retrial on appeal.
Original Print Headline: Protesters seek Morsi ouster
Egyptian riot police fire tear gas at protesters during clashes in front of the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel on Tuesday near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. KHALIL HAMRA/Associated Press