CAIRO — Egypt’s military leader pledged Sunday that the army will tolerate no further violence from Muslim Brotherhood supporters, as more than 30 jailed Islamists died in a botched prison escape and the death toll in the past week topped 800.
Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told Egyptians in a televised speech that the army has no political ambitions. Gen. el-Sissi led the July 3 coup that ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after millions of protesters took to the streets to demand that the president resign. The military installed a civilian interim government to restore democracy.
“We will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people or the torching of the nation and terrorizing of the citizens,” he said.
The cancellation of the rallies followed violent clashes Saturday when Egypt’s security forces battled anti-government protesters in al-Fatah mosque in Cairo’s historic Ramses Square, where hundreds of Morsi supporters took refuge, leaving 174 people dead.
More than 800 people have died since Wednesday, when Egypt’s security forces cleared two main pro-Morsi sit-ins and launched a broader operation against the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The death toll includes more than 70 police officers.
On Sunday, as many as 36 prisoners died when gunmen tried to free them as they were being transferred by a police convoy to a prison north of Cairo.
In spite of the violence and the death toll, a majority of Egyptians support the military and the interim government and their push to restore order and security in Egypt, analysts said.
“The military tried to do what the people want. You saw millions of people in the streets on June 30. The people wanted this,” said Ahmed Morsi, an accountant at the Giza Chamber of Commerce.
“The military had to act against terrorism. If I were to try to kill you, what would be your reaction? You would want to fight me. It’s logical.”
The Muslim Brotherhood remains defiant and has called for daily protests this week, but several days of heavy clashes with the security forces have weakened the movement.
Since the military’s crackdown began, more than 1,000 Brotherhood officials and supporters have been arrested, according to the Interior Ministry. At least 250 detainees could face charges of murder, attempted murder or terrorism, according to Egypt’s MENA state news agency.
The military also imposed a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew, set to last one month. The security situation in Cairo remained tense over the weekend with the uniformed police and plainclothes civilians patrolling the streets at night as part of neighborhood watch groups initiated by the liberal opposition Tamarod movement.
Tamarod was instrumental in mobilizing millions of Egyptians onto the streets in protests that led to the military’s July 3 ouster of Mr. Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, and the establishment of an interim government. The protests erupted over Mr. Morsi’s increasingly authoritarian rule and his failure to improve a crippled economy.