CAIRO, Egypt — Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of Egypt’s military, called for mass demonstrations Friday to support the country’s armed forces.
This comes amid Muslim Brotherhood calls for mass protests of its own and lingering tensions nationwide spurred by the July 3 military coup that deposed the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy.
Al-Sisi, speaking Wednesday at a military graduation ceremony carried live on state TV, exhorted Egyptian citizens “to go down to the streets to give the army the referendum to take firm action against violence and terrorism.”
“The army and the police will secure the protests all over Egypt,” said al-Sisi, who is also the interim defense minister. “We will never retreat when it comes to the proposed road map of the political transition.”
The official Facebook page of Tamarod, the anti-Morsy protest movement, called on its supporters to heed the armed forces’ call for protests.
“We call on all the Egyptian people to gather in all the squares next friday to call for the trial of Mohamed Morsy, support the Egyptian armed forces in the coming war against terrorism and cleansing the land of Egypt. The army and the people will fight terrorism,” the statement said.
In a statement posted to Facebook, a pro-Morsy group called for counter-protests Friday even while saying they fear the military leaders will use the demonstrations to incite violence against Egyptians who support the deposed president.
“The coalition is asking the International community and its institutions, including the U.N. and human rights organizations, to reject the plot for bloodshed that will inflame the region and being executed by leader of the coup, Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi,” the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy said in its statement.
The group also asked the International Criminal Court to try Al-Sisi for crimes against humanity.
Dozens of people have been reported killed and thousands injured since Morsy’s ouster, some of them in confrontations with authorities and others in clashes with those on the other side of the political spectrum.
Fighting on Monday and Tuesday between Morsy supporters and opponents left 14 people dead and dozens injured, state media said, citing the Health Ministry. A bombing in the Nile delta city of Mansoura overnight Tuesday left one person dead and 28 hurt, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Khaled El-Khatib said. A number of the casualties were police officers.
The situation has been calm in Cairo on Wednesday, El-Khatib said, although three people were killed by a car bomb explosion in the Egyptian city of El-Arish on the Sinai Peninsula, according to Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA.
Al-Sisi had pointed words for the Muslim Brotherhood. It and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, backed Morsy. Long before the election that led to Morsy’s victory last year, he said, he advised them not to nominate a candidate.
“I told them they need more knowledge, more efforts and the upcoming phase is very critical, so I advised them not to nominate anyone and they thanked me and left but they didn’t listen,” he said, referring to the period after the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The military was concerned about the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party up to the time Morsy was removed from power.
“We advised them over and over, and we warned them not to turn Egypt into a confrontation battlefield between a movement that claims to be fighting and working in the name of God against others who, according to them, are standing against God’s religion. And that is wrong, because other movements have the right to have their own political visions of how the country should be governed.”
Essam El Arian, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official, said opponents of the coup will protest Friday. “Calling upon people for support will not help your cause, and if you ever had supporters before, they would have gone down to the streets,” he said.
“Your threats will not prevent the millions to constantly protest against the coup. And as a leader to a coup that caused the killing of women and children and those who were praying in the mosques, you need to remember that our people had their say against the coup and they are standing with the constitutional legitimacy and democracy,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Wednesday that U.S. President Barack Obama would delay delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in response to Morsy’s removal from power.
It’s not clear what conditions will be imposed before the aircraft would be cleared for shipment. The Pentagon said, however, that it was not suspending overall arms sales to Egypt at this time.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
Saad Abedine and Salma Abdelaziz | CNN