The chief of the Egyptian army has warned that the military is ready to intervene to save the nation from tearing itself apart. Meanwhile, four people were killed in an apparent sectarian attack by Sunni villagers.
Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (pictured, right) on Sunday said the country's divisions had reached a point that now made them a danger to the state itself.
In a strongly worded warning, el-Sissi said the army would act to stop the nation from entering a "dark tunnel." The warning - which appeared to be aimed at both the government and protesters - was interpreted as one of the boldest statements by the military since President Mohammed Morsi's election last year.
"The armed forces are fully aware of what is happening in domestic affairs, while not taking part or interfering because the armed forces function in a neutral way and with complete impartiality," said el-Sissi, urging that the government and its opponents reach a consensus.
El-Sissi made the statement a week ahead of a planned rally by Morsi's opponents, secularists and liberals, who accuse him of hijacking the 2011 uprising against toppled President Hosni Mubarak. It is anticipated that the gathering on June 30 might be targeted by Islamist pro-Morsi supporters.
"There is a state of division in society," el-Sissi said on Facebook. "Prolonging it poses a danger to the Egyptian state. There must be consensus among all. We will not remain silent as the country slips into a conflict that is hard to control."
'An insult to nationalism'
There was also a warning from el-Sissi that the military would no longer tolerate "insults" to the armed forces and its leaders. The comment came after Islamists staged a rally on Friday in which they derided the military.
"Repeated insults against the army and its leaders and its symbols are an insult to Egyptian nationalism and to the Egyptian people as a whole ... The army will not stay silent against any insult directed at it from now on."
Meanwhile, four Egyptian Shiites were killed in an attack by Sunni villagers who accused them of trying to spread their version of Islam throughout Egypt. Hardline Sunnis believe that Shiite Islam is a form of heresy.
The death toll was confirmed by the Egyptian Health Ministry, which added that scores of Shiites had been seriously injured in the attack. The Shiites were reportedly attacked after performing a religious ritual outside the house in a village in Giza province.
Sectarian violence has been on the rise since the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak, with Christians - who make up 10 percent of the population - bearing the brunt of most violence. Shiites are a very small proportion of the population in Egypt, whose Muslims overwhelmingly belong to the Sunni faith.
The new governor of Luxor, Adel el-Khayat, earlier on Sunday said he was quitting after a storm of protest over his appointment. El-Khayat is a member of the Islamist Construction and Development party, which had previously been linked to a 1997 massacre of tourists in the famous temple city.
rc/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)