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Egypt braces for another crackdown on rallies

The army threatened to turn its guns on those who use violence; the Brotherhood warned of civil war.

Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood rallying in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi clash with police outside the elite Republican Guards base in Cairo early on July 8, 2013.  Picture: AFP /Mahmoud Khaled

CAIRO - A deeply polarised Egypt braced for bloodshed on Friday in rival mass rallies summoned by the army that ousted the state's first freely elected president and by the Islamists who back him.

Both sides warned of a decisive struggle for the future of the Arab world's most populous country, convulsed by political and economic turmoil since the 2011 uprising that ended 30 years of autocratic rule by Hosni Mubarak.

Army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has called Egyptians into the streets nationwide to give the military a mandate to confront weeks of violence unleashed by his July 3d overthrow of Islamist President, Mohamed Morsi.

A military official said the army had given Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood a Saturday deadline to end its resistance and join a military-set road map to fresh elections, signalling a turning point in the confrontation.

The Brotherhood fears a crackdown to wipe out an Islamist movement that emerged from decades in the shadows to win every election since Mubarak's fall, but was brought down by the army after barely a year in government.

The movement has been holding a street vigil for almost a month, with thousands of followers demanding Morsi's return. It has called for counter-demonstrations on Friday. Confrontation appeared inevitable following a month of clashes in which close to 200 people, mainly supporters of Morsi, have died.

"We will not initiate any move, but will definitely react harshly against any calls for violence or black terrorism from Brotherhood leaders or their supporters," the army official told Reuters.

The streets of Cairo were largely empty early Friday. Crowds were not expected to gather until later in the day and might not peak until after the evening prayer marking the end of the day's Ramadan fast. Many locals feared the worst.

"I'm staying home all day; it's too dangerous to work. I didn't think things in Egypt could get this bad, but every day you hear about clashes and deaths," said Shadi Mohamed, a 22-year-old taxi driver. "Egypt is a disaster."

AT ODDS

The country remains deeply split over what happened on July 3. The Brotherhood accuses the army of ejecting a democratically elected leader in a long-planned coup, while its opponents say the army responded to the will of the people.

Since Morsi was deposed, hardline Islamists have also escalated a violent campaign against the state in the lawless Sinai Peninsula near Egypt's border with Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, with daily attacks on security forces.

The influential Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of Egypt's top Islamic institute Al-Azhar, urged Egyptians to heed the army's call.

"I ask all Egyptians to rally to save Egypt…" he said in a statement aired on state television.

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