Cairo - Egypt was on edge on Thursday ahead of rival
protests by the military and Islamists, as the government declared a "war
on terrorism" to end violence convulsing the country since president
Mohammed Morsi's overthrow.
Police said they were planning massive reinforcements to
secure Friday's rallies, which raise the prospect of further bloodshed between
Islamists demanding Morsi's reinstatement and an array of opponents including
The fugitive leader of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed
Badei urged Egyptians to peacefully make a "stand for freedom and legitimacy,
and against the bloody coup," in a statement on Thursday.
The United States said on Wednesday it was "very
concerned" by military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's call for a rally to
justify a crackdown on what he called "terrorism and violence."
Washington, which has close ties with Egypt's military, also
announced it had decided to suspend a plan to supply its ally with F-16
The Brotherhood and allied Islamist groups had denounced
Sisi's call as "an announcement of civil war" and said they would
press on with their own demonstrations on Friday.
Egyptian newspapers, mostly hostile to the Brotherhood,
featured Sisi's call, made in a Wednesday speech, in their front page
The state-owned Al-Akhbar ran a banner, partially in large
red font, reading: "Sisi's message has been delivered. And the people
respond: We mandate you."
"Sisi calls. And the people respond," reported the
leading independent daily, Al-Masry al-Youm.
In Qatar, a Muslim organisation headed by the influential
Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi issued an edict against obeying Sisi's
call, saying it could lead to "civil war".
The general's unusual demand - the military insists he is
merely a defence minister and deputy premier in the army-installed cabinet -
came after calls for a crackdown on Islamists staging sometimes bloody protests
since the 3 July coup.
"Next Friday, all honourable Egyptians must take to the
street to give me a mandate and command to end terrorism and violence,"
the general said, wearing dark sunglasses as he addressed a military graduation
ceremony near Alexandria.
A spokesperson for army-installed interim president Adly Mansour
later said Egypt "has begun a war on terrorism".
Hours before Sisi's speech, a crude time bomb placed outside
a police station in the Nile Delta city of Mansura killed a police conscript,
the interior ministry said.
In the restive Sinai peninsula, where militants have staged
daily attacks on security forces, two soldiers were shot dead in separate
ambushes on Wednesday.
More than 170 people have died in political unrest since the
end of June, according to an AFP tally, many of them in clashes between Morsi's
supporters and opponents.
Huge crowds of Egyptians protested against Morsi on 30 June,
after just one turbulent year of his presidency.
Senior Brotherhood leader Essam al-Erian said Morsi
loyalists would not be intimidated by the army chief's call for mass rallies.
"Your threat will not prevent millions from
continuously protesting," Erian wrote on Facebook.
Tamarod, the movement that spearheaded the mass anti-Morsi
rallies that led up to the coup, called on supporters to take to the streets
again on Friday to support the army.
"We call on the great Egyptian people to rally on
Friday across Egypt to demand... Morsi's trial and to support the military in
its upcoming war on terrorism."
Morsi's detention, and the subsequent arrests of senior
Brotherhood leaders, have hardened his supporters' stance.
His family said it would sue Sisi and also take legal action
The United States has joined other Western nations in
calling for Morsi's release, although it has declined to characterise his
overthrow as a coup, which would force a suspension of US aid.