CAIRO – A speech by Egypt's powerful top general calling for mass rallies to back a crackdown on "terrorism and violence" has raised growing suspicions, rejected by rights groups as a call to confront supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
"Sisi basically said that he is ruling by popular mandate. So we're heading toward this very dangerous place where the people's will is the source of legality," Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Wall Street Journal.
"The very notion of legality is almost suspended right now."
These suspicions followed calls by military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who deposed Egypt’s first freely elected President Morsi on July 3 and replaced his government with an interim administration, for mass rallies on Friday.
His speech prompted concerns that the military may be seeking popular legitimacy for a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
It also added to fears that it is Sisi, rather than the civilian government he installed following Morsi's overthrow, who has the greatest influence on post-Morsi Egypt.
In a first reaction to the calls, the United States said it was “very concerned” by 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 warplanes, part of a $2.5 billion order for 20 of the fighter jets reached in 2010.
"Given the current situation in Egypt, we don't believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters on Wednesday.
The US administration, which refused to label Morsi's ouster a coup, said its decision wasn't tied to Gen. Sisi's announcement.
"A decision was made by the president, by his national security team, not to deliver given the events on the ground," said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.
"We're continuing to review. But I'm cautioning you against reading into what it means in the future."
Yet, the delay appeared to be a signal to increasingly restive US lawmakers that the administration was taking seriously concern about aid to countries whose governments have been ousted.
Apart from official reactions, a leading human rights group has accused Gen Sisi of leading Egypt towards an “civil war”.
“The Arab Organization for Human Rights in UK urges the Egyptian people no ignore Sisi bloody calls,” the group said in a statement published on its website on Thursday, July 25.
“The protests plan organized by security forces would only lead to a comprehensive civil war,” the group added.
The rights group also commended the world and UN Security Council to take decisive actions against Sisi “bloody calls”, adding that silence would only lead to the fall of Egypt.
These warnings were voiced earlier by Brotherhood leaders who said Gen. Sisi's appeal amounted to a militant threat to suppress their peaceful protests.
Thousands of Morsi's supporters have been camped out in downtown Cairo for three weeks demanding that he be reinstated.
"It is very clear what he's up to. He has tried all other means and he's failing," said Amr Darrag, a leader in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and a former minister under Morsi.
"He's trying to use the last card, which is threatening civil war. This is very dangerous."
El-Sisi calls followed violence escalation after the death of 13 pro-Morsi supporters since Monday.
The incident follows claims by the Muslim Brotherhood that four female Morsi supporters were shot dead during recent clashes in Mansoura.
Morsi's supporters also said that their night-time marches in Cairo have been attacked on two successive nights by security forces or their proxies, killing at least nine people.
On the other hand, official reports said that the deaths resulted from clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents.
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