Egypt's army warns of 'state collapse'

CAIRO - Egypt's armed forces chief has warned the current political crisis "could lead to a collapse of the state".

General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, in comments posted on the military's Facebook page, said such a collapse could "threaten future generations".

He made his statement following a large military deployment in three cities along the Suez Canal where a state of emergency has been declared.

More than 50 people have died in days of protests and violence.

Overnight, thousands of people in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez - where some of the worst unrest has been - ignored a night-time curfew to take to the streets.

Thousands were again on the streets of Port Said on Tuesday for the latest funerals of those killed. In Cairo, police again fired tear gas at youths in Tahrir Square.

Gen Sisi's lengthy statement appears to be a veiled threat to protesters and opposition forces as well as an appeal for calm and an attempt to reassure Egyptians about the role of the military, the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says.

The Egyptian army appears to be trying to make several statements at once.

Gen Sisi's remarks - originally made to students at a military academy - are a strong reminder that the armed forces remain an important political and economic player in Egypt.

The general's comments criticised the destabilising power struggle between the different political forces. He is trying to assert the army's independence and its role as "a strong pillar of the state".

Gen Sisi served on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) while it temporarily ruled the country, and the army knows its reputation has been tainted by its time in power.

The general now seems to be defining the army's role as recognising the right to peaceful protest while protecting key installations - namely the Suez Canal, one of Egypt's main sources of foreign revenue.

"The continuing conflict between political forces and their differences concerning the management of the country could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations," Gen Sisi, who is also Egypt's defence minister, said.

He said the economic, political and social challenges facing Egypt represented "a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the Egyptian state".

The military deployment along the Suez Canal was meant only to protect the key shipping route, one of Egypt's main sources of foreign revenue, and described the army as "a pillar of the state's foundations", he added.

His comments were made in an address to army cadets which were subsequently posted on the military's official Facebook page.

Gen Sisi was appointed by President Mohammed Morsi after the armed forces handed over power to him following his election in June.

He replaced Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who had been former President Hosni Mubarak's long-time defence minister and was chairman of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) following his fall from power in February 2011.

Thousands continued to protest after dark in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez on Monday, in spite of the curfew and temporary state of emergency imposed in an attempt to end the unrest.

They have been angered by death sentences handed down by a Port Said court on 21 local football fans involved in deadly riots at a football match in the city almost a year ago.

Egypt's army profile

    490,000 active soldiers
    Military governed between February 2011 until June 2012
    Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (pictured above) is head of the armed forces and minister of defence
    Military's budget not made public or scrutinised by parliament. It is overseen by National Defence Committee made up of military chiefs and cabinet members
    US military aid to Egypt 1.3bn
    According to some estimates army controls 40% of economy

Protesters elsewhere have been marching in opposition to Mr Morsi's authority in the wake of the Egyptian revolution's second anniversary.

Mr Morsi, a member of the powerful Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt's first freely-elected president in last year's election.

Despite promising to form a government "for all Egyptians", he has been accused by the opposition of being autocratic and driving through a new constitution that does not adequately protect freedom of expression or religion.

His recent call for national dialogue has been rejected by his political opponents.

He had urged opposition leaders to attend a meeting on Sunday evening in an effort to calm the situation, but only Islamists already aligned with the president turned up.

Meanwhile, protesters in cities along the Suez Canal accuse the authorities of making scapegoats of the football fans now facing death sentences.

They say officials for security at the game between Port Said club al-Masry and Cairo club al-Ahly nearly a year ago should have been held accountable for the fact that 74 people died in violence following the match.

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