CAIRO // Egypt's military chief yesterday called for mass street demonstrations tomorrow "to give me the mandate in order that I confront violence and potential terrorism".
The defence minister and deputy prime minister Gen Abdul Fattah El Sisi urged Egyptians: "Please, shoulder your responsibility with me, your army and the police, and show your size and steadfastness in the face of what is going on."
His rallying call is part of a growing campaign by the military to undermine Islamist supporters of the former president Mohammed Morsi.
The military's psychological operations unit has released video footage of pro-Morsi protesters firing live ammunition at police and army officers, and alleged that some were killing each other to tarnish the military's reputation.
There was a setback for the interim government yesterday when Barack Obama delayed the planned sale to Egypt of four F-16 fighter jets. The Pentagon said the US president's decision applied only to the F-16s, and the broader question of Washington's US$1.3 billion (Dh4.7bn) in annual military assistance had not been settled.
Gen El Sisi's call for demonstrations followed a day in which 12 people died in clashes between Morsi supporters and groups who want to restart the democratic process.
One person died and 17 were injured in a bomb blast on Tuesday next to a police station in the Nile delta city of Mansoura. Many of the injured were police officers.
A pro-Morsi group of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters denied any connection to the attack, and said they were being framed.
They alleged an "apparent plan by security and intelligence agencies to plot violent attacks to terrorise citizens". The group said the agencies were attempting to falsely link the attacks to "peaceful protesters who announced more than once that their power lies in their peacefulness".
The fresh clashes, bombing in Mansour and instability in Sinai have fuelled claims by anti-Morsi groups that the former president's supporters are engaging in terrorism to tip the country into chaos.
Despite Brotherhood officials' claims that they do not seek violent confrontation with their political opponents, pro-Morsi protesters marched on Tuesday to Tahrir Square where anti-Morsi protesters are camped out, in what many saw as a highly confrontational move. In the inevitable clashes, nine people were killed.
Col Ahmed Ali, the military spokesman, said last week he believed the pro-Morsi protesters were exaggerating the number of people who died in an early morning clash with police and army officers last week. Mr Morsi's supporters said more than 50 people, including women and children, were killed by the military shortly after morning prayer. But Mr Ali blamed militants within the Brotherhood for starting the battle.
The former president's supporters have found little international support in their cause to have Mr Morsi reinstated. The US, Germany and the European Union have called only for him to be released from detention, where he has been since he was deposed.
Qatar, which supported the Brotherhood's rise to power last year, yesterday expressed concern at the increasing civilian death toll.
"A responsible source at the Qatari expressed his concern over the development of events in sisterly Arab Republic of Egypt, especially after the increasing number of civilian victims," the Qatari state news agency QNA reported.
The foreign ministry said dialogue was not possible in Egypt so long as Mr Morsi was held against his will.
Adly Mansour, the former head of the Supreme Constitutional Court who was appointed interim president by Gen El Sisi, has called for the Muslim Brotherhood to join a national reconciliation initiative, which was set to convene yesterday, but the group has refused. Many of the Brotherhood's top officials have been jailed, some without charges, since July 3.
Reflecting the deepening tensions in Egypt, Mr Mansour's rhetoric has become more forceful in recent days. Soon after his appointment, he promised the Brotherhood positions in the new government. But when they refused and held protests, he answered with a declaration that the new government would "fight a battle for security until the end".
Many now fear that tomorrow's protests could end in bloodshed. After Gen El Sisi's call for Egyptians to support his decision to remove Mr Morsi from power, the Brotherhood pledged to hold their own large-scale demonstrations.
"Your threat will not prevent millions to rally against coup," Essam El Erian, a senior Brotherhood official, told Gen El Sisi. "You have been always in your office conspiring."