CAIRO —Egypt‘s military leader vowed Sunday that the army will not tolerate further political violence after nationwide clashes killed hundreds, as security forces detained Muslim Brotherhood members in raids aimed at disrupting planned rallies.
Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who led the July 3 coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi, again said the army has no intention of seizing power in the Arab world’s most populous country. El-Sissi removed Morsi after four days of mass rallies by millions of Egyptians who demanded the president step down.
On Saturday alone, clashes between Morsi supporters and police killed 79 people, according to a government tally released Sunday and carried by Egypt‘s official MENA news agency. That raised the death toll for four days of unrest across the country to 888 people killed.
“We will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people or the torching the nation and terrorizing the citizens,” el-Sissi said in a speech aired on state television.
The general said that the military didn’t seek power but instead “have the honor to protect the people’s will — which is much dearer (than) ruling Egypt.”
El-Sissi also said Islamists must be included in the country’s politics moving forward. A military timetable calls for the nation’s constitution to be amended and for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in 2014.
“We have given many chances … to end the crisis peacefully and call for the followers of the former regime to participate in rebuilding the democratic track and integrate in the political process and the future map instead of confrontations and destroying the Egyptian state,” he told a gathering of top military commanders and police chiefs.
El-Sissi’s remarks come ahead of an anticipated harsher stance by the military-backed government toward the Brotherhood. The Cabinet held an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss potentially banning the group, a long-outlawed organization that swept to power in the country’s first democratic elections a year ago.
A possible ban — which authorities say would be implemented over the group’s use of violence — would be a repeat of the decades-long struggle between the state and the Brotherhood. It also would drain the group’s financial resources and allow for mass arrests of its members. That likely would diminish the chances of a negotiated solution to the crisis and push it again underground.
The Brotherhood, however, has shown no signs of backing down.
Under the banner of an anti-coup alliance, the group held protests Sunday, though a planned demonstration in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in southern Cairo appeared to fizzle out.
Unrest has swept Egypt since Wednesday’s dismantling of two encampments of Morsi supporters in Cairo. Some 70 police officers were killed in clashes with protesters or retaliatory attacks during the same period, according to the Interior Ministry.
In an attempt to cripple the Brotherhood’s protest plans, authorities carried out raids early Sunday morning, detaining at least 300 mid-level officials and field operatives in several cities, according to security officials and group statements.
In Egypt‘s second-largest city Alexandria, the Brotherhood said on its official website that security forces stormed houses of 34 officials and former lawmakers, but only arrested seven people. Among those targeted was Medhat el-Haddad, the brother of top Morsi’s aide Essam el-Haddad.
In Assiut, 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Cairo, 163 of the group’s officials and operatives were rounded up in different towns in the province, security officials said. They said those arrested face charges of instigating violence and orchestrating attacks on police stations and churches.