Mohammed Mursi

Egypt's army chief Sisi calls fora quick transition to elections

Mursi supporters demand end of military rule amid a push for elections to restore stablity

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 5:18am

Egypt's army chief has called for a quick transition to elections to restore stability to the country, while supporters of the Islamist president he ousted, Mohammed Mursi, staged daring protests urging an end to "military government".

Mursi's supporters returned to Cairo's Tahrir Square to demonstrate there for the first time since he was removed from power in July.

Since then, political tensions and a sharp rise in attacks by Islamist militants have hit tourism and investment in Egypt, the most populous Arab state, which depends heavily on US aid.

Speaking to soldiers and police officers at a seminar, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi "called on everyone to be truly aware of the size of the problems facing society, and which necessitate speeding up the end of the transitional phase", according to the army spokesman's official Facebook page.

In a reference to Mursi's year in power, Sisi condemned what he said were attempts to distort "a ruling experience that failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people" and portray it as a "religious battle and a war on Islam".

After toppling Mursi, the military installed an interim government and announced a "road map" for a transition to a new election. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Mursi had been a prominent member before being elected president, accused the military of staging a coup that removed Egypt's first freely elected president.

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said last week that the transitional phase of government should end "by next spring".

Since Mursi's downfall, security forces have killed hundreds of pro-Mursi protesters, and senior members of his Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested, actions that drastically reduced the size of protests.

Mursi supporters protesting in Tahrir Square on Tuesday risked the wrath of security forces who had been keeping a close eye on the area. About 100 protesters started chanting: "Down with the military government! We are a country not a military camp. We want freedom."

Tahrir was the rallying point in 2011 for hundreds of thousands of people against Hosni Mubarak, the president then.

Shortly after arriving in Tahrir, passersby attacked the protesters with rocks. Riot police moved in and dispersed the crowd.

At talks this week, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will encourage reconciliation between the government and the Brotherhood, a European diplomatic source said. "She is coming to explore the possibilities for a return to a transition in which all sides can participate," the source said. Ashton arrived on Tuesday.

Getting the army-backed government and the Brotherhood to compromise may be an impossible mission for Ashton, who failed on a previous visit, as did several Western envoys, to persuade the military to avoid using force against Mursi's supporters.

Security forces crushed pro-Mursi protest camps on August 14, killing hundreds. The Brotherhood's leaders were arrested in a bid to decapitate the movement, which won every election in post-Mubarak Egypt. A court has now banned the movement and ordered its assets frozen.

The European diplomat said Ashton would meet government leaders, Sisi and Muslim Brotherhood politicians Amr Darrag and Mohamed Ali Bishr, who both served as negotiators for the movement in talks with US and EU envoys, which failed to prevent raids on protest camps.

Most Brotherhood leaders are in jail, including Mursi.