Egypt’s army chief defends coup

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s comments Sunday were the first since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. This version has been corrected.

July 14, 2013

Egypt’s military chief said Sunday that the armed forces have no intention of retaining political power and only stepped in to remove the country’s democratically elected government under the pressure of overwhelming popular demand.

Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who will remain as defense minister in the still-incomplete government that will serve until new elections are held, also said no party would be excluded from the political process, an apparent reference to ousted president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies.

“Every political force, without exception and without exclusion, must realize that an opportunity is available for everyone in political life and no ideological movement is prevented from participating,” he told a gathering of army officers, according to the state news agency.

The comments seemed designed to allay growing concerns that Egypt may be slipping back toward military rule as authorities pursue a nationwide crackdown against the Brotherhood, whose leaders are jailed or in hiding after their year-long effort to run the country.

The United States has backed a call by Germany for the release of Morsi, who has been held without charge since the army overthrew him on July 3, and some Egyptians have expressed misgivings about the direction in which their country is heading since army soldiers gunned down at least 51 Morsi supporters at a demonstration last week.

Government mismanagement and tourists being scared away by political turmoil have caused Egypt's economy to suffer since the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Sissi defended the removal of Morsi, saying the army acted only in response to “the will of the people.” Morsi had rejected the efforts of an envoy sent by the army to persuade him to agree to hold a referendum on his rule, after millions of people took to the streets to demand that he step down, Sissi said.

The military’s current role is intended to be temporary, he added.

“The Egyptian military is preparing to complete its work and is apolitical,” the general said. “It has laid down a future plan that facilitates the right of free choice, and this plan was blessed before the Egyptian people through its main representatives.”

Within hours of his speech, delivered to military officers and reported by state media, the judiciary intensified pressure on the Brotherhood’s leadership by announcing that it was freezing the assets of 14 top Muslim Brotherhood officials accused of inciting violence during the upheaval.

Among them were the Muslim Brotherhood’s “supreme guide,” Mohammed Badie, who is in hiding, and deputy leader Khairat el-Shater, who is thought to be in custody.

Tensions have been rising between the military and the Brotherhood, which has vowed to continue a campaign of protests and civil disobedience until Morsi is reinstated. Marches are planned for Monday, and Muslim Brotherhood supporters are sustaining daily protests at two encampments on the outskirts of Cairo.

Meanwhile, the interim government is starting to take shape. Hazem el-Beblawi, the economist appointed to head a new cabinet, named a former ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, as foreign minister. A veteran of the World Bank with a doctorate from Boston University, Ahmed Galal, was appointed finance minister.

Liberal opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading figure in the campaign to oust Morsi, was sworn in as vice president, a job he accepted last week after his appointment as prime minister was rejected by the Salafist Nour party.

Liz Sly is the Post’s Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war. Other postings include Africa, China and Afghanistan.
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