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.
Gen. el-Sissi promised that the army would not allow the street violence to continue.
“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 military’s threat forced Muslim Brotherhood leaders to call off pro-Morsi rallies, as the Egyptian capital of Cairo remained tense.
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.
“The military did not do anything wrong,” said Eman El Mahdy, a Tamarod spokeswoman. “We tried every peaceful way to reconcile with them, to listen to them and their requests. The Muslim Brotherhood was a security threat to Egypt.”
The Muslim Brotherhood accused the army of reinstalling “dictatorial military rule.”
“We denounce all forms of violence, all acts of terrorism or sectarian strife,” the Brotherhood said in a statement.
Brotherhood supporters expressed outrage over the military’s heavy-handed crackdown.
“It was a killing of Egyptians by the military coup,” Ahmad Lotfy, a science professor at Al Azhar University, said about Saturday’s events at the al-Fatah mosque. “Sissi is a killer. He wants to be the president of Egypt.”
The United States and Europe have expressed alarm over the violence with the European Union reconsidering its aid to Egypt, officials said Sunday. Last week, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as the interim government’s vice president in response to the crackdown.
The issue now is how to move the country forward after 21/2 years of upheaval since the Arab Spring revolution ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, analysts said.
The interim government rejects the idea of integrating the Muslim Brotherhood into the political process, while the Brotherhood has refused to open talks until Mr. Morsi is restored to the presidency.
Some say the crackdown on the Islamists is to ensure that they will be unable to participate in elections. The interim government’s prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, said Sunday that the transition administration is considering banning the Brotherhood.
“The state has taken all measures to maintain security and public order,” Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told reporters Sunday. “Once security is established, the political process will be reinvigorated — open to all Egyptians within perimeters of law.”
A Gallup poll shortly before Mr. Morsi’s ouster estimated his support at 29 percent, and analysts said the Brotherhood has the support of only about 25 percent of Egyptians nationwide.
“They are not as strong or as big as they seem,” said Ashraf Naguib, CEO of Global Trade Matters, a Cairo-based think tank.
The Muslim Brotherhood was the biggest player and the best-organized group after Mubarak stepped down.
“How can we ever accept them as a political party, when their own principles are not based on democratic principles?” Mr. Naguib said.
Some Egyptians say the military’s tough stance is necessary in the nation’s quest for democracy.
“The problem with the Brotherhood is that they could not make the rest of the Egyptians like them. They have failed running the country, and Morsi is the main reason for what is happening right now,” said Mohamed Ashour, a vendor outside Isteqama mosque in Giza, adding that he disapproves of the violence.