Political allies of Egypt’s military lined up behind its call for huge rallies Friday to show support for the country’s top general, pushing toward a collision with Islamist opponents demanding the return of the nation’s ousted president.
But there was widespread uncertainty over the army’s intentions — and worry that the military is whipping up a dangerous populist fervor.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who ousted Egypt’s elected president on July 3, took many by surprise when he announced this week that he wanted people to take to the streets in large numbers on Friday to give him a popular mandate to take the necessary measures against “violence and terrorism.”
El-Sissi’s call was widely interpreted as a prelude to a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which the ousted Mohammed Morsi hails, and other Islamists who have been camped out for about a month at sit-ins in Cairo and elsewhere calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.
The Egyptian army is detaining ousted President Mohamed Morsi over accusations of kidnapping, killing soldiers and other charges, the state news agency said on Friday.
The army had previously said it was holding Morsi for his own safety and the report was likely to stoke tension before mass rallies on Friday billed as shows of strength between supporters and opponents of the Islamist Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader.
Both sides warned of the potential for bloodshed in Egypt, which has been convulsed by political and economic turmoil since the 2011 uprising that ended 30 years of autocratic rule by the US-backed Hosni Mubarak.
State news agency Mena said the mooted charges against Morsi included conspiring with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, killing prisoners and officers "deliberately with prior intent", kidnapping officers and soldiers, and setting fire to the prison of Wadi el-Natroun.
They relate to his escape from the prison in 2011, when he was arrested during the uprising against Mubarak, and provide legal grounds for his continued detention.
Morsi has been held by the military since the army ousted him from office on July 3 following huge street protests against his troubled, one-year rule. Washington has previously called for him to be freed.
His Muslim Brotherhood denounced news of the accusations.
"At the end of the day we know all of these charges are nothing more than the fantasy of a few army generals and a military dictatorship," Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said. "We are continuing our protests on the streets."
Throwing down the gauntlet to the Brotherhood, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called on Egyptians to rally nationwide on Friday to give the military a "mandate" to confront weeks of violence unleashed by Morsi's removal.