Egypts defense chief warns of state collapse if political crisis continues

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Struggle among political forces in Egypt could lead to the collapse of the country, head of the armed forced warned on Tuesday.

“The continuation of the struggle of the different political forces ... over the management of state affairs could lead to the collapse of the state,” Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi wrote on the army’s Facebook page.

Chief General Sissi, who is also the defense minister, said that the political and economic challenges represent “real threat” to Egypt’s security, adding that the protection of Suez Canal was an essential reason for the army’s deployment.

On Monday, Egyptian protesters defied an overnight curfew in restive towns along the Suez Canal, attacking police stations after Islamist President Mohammed Mursi imposed emergency rule to end days of clashes that have left at least 52 people dead.

After Sissi’s statement, the salafist Nour party said that no one political faction can rule Egypt and that an investigation was needed over the violence that left dozens of people killed across the country.

Political opponents spurned a call by Mursi for talks on Monday to try to end the violence. Instead, huge crowds of protesters took to the streets in Cairo and Alexandria, and in the three Suez Canal cities - Port Said, Ismailia and Suez - where Mursi imposed emergency rule and a curfew on Sunday.

“Down, down with Mohamed Mursi! Down, down with the state of emergency!” crowds shouted in Ismailia. In Cairo, flames lit up the night sky as protesters set vehicles ablaze.

At least two men died in overnight fighting in the canal city of Port Said, the latest unrest in a wave of violence unleashed last week on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that brought down autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Another death came on Monday in Cairo, where a protester died of gunshot wounds as youths hurling stones battled all day and into the night with police firing tear gas near Qasr el-Nil Bridge, a landmark over the Nile next to major hotels. In nearby Tahrir Square, protesters set fire to a police armored personnel carrier, celebrating as it burned in scenes reminiscent of the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

“I will be coming back here every day until the blood of our martyrs is avenged,” said 19-year-old carpenter Islam Nasser, who wore a Guy Fawkes mask as he battled police near Tahrir square.

The major opposition parties grouped in the National Salvation Front, led by reform leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBardei, are seeking to leverage the turmoil roiling the country to break the Islamists' hold on power and force Mursi to make concessions.

ElBardei and other front leaders said they would only accept his invitation to join a national dialogue to resolve the crisis if he agreed first to form a national unity government and a commission to rewrite what they see as contentious parts of an Islamist-backed constitution adopted in a referendum last month.

The rejection of Mursi’s offer is likely to lend more weight to ElBaradei and his colleagues in the Salvation Front at a time when protesters on the streets are increasingly showing their independence from politicians, voicing a wide range of non-political grievances.