Egypt’s army chief said on Sunday the military will not let “one group” dominate the country, intensifying a standoff with the Muslim Brotherhood from which the new president has emerged.
“Egypt will not fall. It is for all Egyptians and not just one group... The armed forces will not allow it,” Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said in statements carried by the official MENA news agency, in apparent reference to the Brotherhood.
Tantawi -- Egypt’s interim ruler after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising -- made the comments hours after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during which she urged the military to support a transition to civilian rule.
Egypt is in the midst of a complex power struggle that is being played out between the newly-elected Islamist president, Mohammed Mursi, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Tantawi.
Last week, Mursi ordered parliament to convene, defying a military decision to disband the house after the country’s top court ruled it invalid.
Mursi’s decree was applauded by supporters who believed the court’s decision to disband parliament was political, but it set off a storm of criticism from opponents who accused him of overstepping his authority.
The origins of the battle for parliament lay in the constitutional declaration issued by the SCAF before the president was sworn in.
The declaration, which acts as a temporary constitution, granted the military sweeping powers, including legislative control, and rendered the presidential post little more than symbolic.
Mursi’s decision was seen as an opening shot in a power struggle between Egypt’s first civilian leader and the Mubarak-appointed generals who wanted to retain broad powers even after they transferred control on June 30.
But on Wednesday, Mursi said he would respect a court ruling overturning his decree, in an apparent bid to mollify an infuriated judiciary and the powerful military.
During her visit, Clinton called for the military to help smooth the country’s full transition to democracy.
Clinton has repeatedly called on the military to respect the outcome of the elections and told a news conference her talks with Tantawi would focus on “working to support the military’s return to a purely national security role.”
After meeting Clinton, Tantawi said the army would keep a role in “protecting” Egypt but said it respected the presidency.
“The armed forces and the army council respects legislative and executive authorities,” he said in a speech to troops in the city of Ismailia. “The armed forces would not allow anyone to discourage it from its role in protecting Egypt and its people.”
Ties between Cairo and Washington were strained this year when Egyptian judicial police raided the offices of several U.S.-backed non-governmental organizations on suspicion of illegal foreign funding and put several Americans on trial as a result.
The rare spat ended when Egyptian authorities allowed the U.S. citizens and other foreign workers to leave the country.
Making her first visit to Egypt since Mursi’s inauguration, Clinton appeared to recognize there were limits to what, if anything, Washington can do to influence events in Cairo and stressed that it was up to Egyptians to chart their future.