With tensions already running high following the army’s ouster of President Mohamed Mursi on July 3, the call by General Abdel Fattah Sisi for demonstrations raises the prospect of further violence on the streets between the pro- and anti-Mursi camps.
“Next Friday, all honorable Egyptians must take to the street to give me a mandate and command to end terrorism and violence,” said Sisi, wearing dark sunglasses as he took to the podium to address a graduation ceremony of military cadets near Alexandria.
A coalition of Islamists led by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood said they would press ahead with their own rallies on Friday, warning of “massacres” after Sisi’s speech.
“Sisi’s threats are an announcement of civil war,” the group said.
It warned of the danger of “massacres committed under a false popular cover.”
Nearly 170 people have died in political unrest in Egypt since the end of June, according to an AFP tally, many of them in clashes between Mursi’s supporters and opponents.
Huge crowds of Egyptians protested against Mursi on June 30, after just a single turbulent year of his presidency.
Sisi claimed he had been told by Mursi aides that removing the president would result in violence.
Presidential aides “told me if there is any problem there will be lots of violence because of armed groups, to scare me,” Sisi said in his speech.
After he spoke, security sources said gunmen killed a soldier in a noon attack in the Sinai peninsula, where militants have carried out daily attacks on security forces since Mursi’s overthrow.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam al-Erian said Mursi loyalists would not be intimidated by the army chief’s call for mass rallies.
“Your threat will not prevent millions from continuously protesting,” Erian said in a statement on his Facebook page.
He was referring to demonstrations by Mursi’s supporters which have continued non-stop since the Islamist leader was overthrown and placed in custody by the military.
Tamarod, the movement that spearheaded the mass rallies that led up to the coup, called on supporters to take to the streets again on Friday in support of the army.
“We call on the great Egyptian people to rally on Friday across Egypt to demand… Mursi’s trial and to support the military in its upcoming war on terrorism,” it said.
Sisi’s address came just hours after a blast in front of a police station in Mansura in the Nile Delta, which Mohamed Sultan, head of the emergency services, told AFP left “28 wounded and one dead”.
The interior ministry said in a statement that a conscript was killed in the blast.
The Islamist Anti-Coup Alliance, which has been pressing demonstrations calling for Mursi’s reinstatement, said that it “strenuously condemns the criminal bombing that hit Mansura”.
Clashes between supporters and opponents of Mursi, have killed at least 13 people across Egypt since Monday.
Presidential spokesman Ahmed Al-Muslimani denounced the violence, saying “Egypt is not a second Syria and anyone who pushes in that direction is a traitor”.
But Mursi’s detention, and subsequent arrests of senior Brotherhood leaders, have hardened his supporters against dealing with the new regime.
His daughter Shaimaa Mohamed Mursi told reporters on Monday that the family would sue army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and also take legal action outside Egypt.
Senior aides held with the president have asked their families for prison clothes, signalling possible charges, relatives said.
The United States has joined other Western governments in calling for Mursi’s release, although it has declined to characterize his overthrow as a coup, which would force a suspension of US aid.
But the Pentagon said on Wednesday that Washington had decided not to go ahead with plans to supply Egypt with an additional four F-16 fighter jets.
“Given the current situation in Egypt we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s,” spokesman George Little told reporters.
In addition to clashes on the streets between rival protesters, Egypt’s caretaker government is facing a low-level insurgency in the Sinai.
Militant attacks on police and army checkpoints since July 3 have killed 20 security force personnel and 10 civilians.