Egypt’s ruling military council sought to deflect mounting criticism of its stewardship of the country after deadly clashes heightened tensions ahead of a presidential vote less than three weeks away.
The council expressed sorrow for the clashes that left a lot of victims killed and injured, according to a press conference by the Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF). “The interference of police forces stopped the clashes in Abbassiya,” Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar told the press conference in Cairo.
He expressed SCAF’s commitment to hand over power before June 30. “If we want to forge the elections, we could have forged the parliamentary polls,” Assar said.
“We are keen to have free and fair presidential elections and it is not true that we have barred foreign NGOs from monitoring our elections. We have invited foreign NGOs to monitor the forthcoming elections, including the Carter Association,” he said.
“Only the Egyptian people will decided the name of the coming president,” he underlined.
“We welcome any million-march to express any opinions peacefully. But we reject the chaos,” Assar said on answering a question by Al Arabiya correspondent in Cairo, referring to the planned one-million march dubbed “The End”.
“Some people insist on making resemblance between today and the days of the former regime, which is completely wrong,” he said.
Asked about the latest crisis between Egypt and Saudi Arabia that forced the Kingdom to withdraw its ambassador for consultation and to close its embassy in Cairo and its cosulates nationwide, Assar said that Egypt is linked to Saudi Arabia with historical ties.
“We contacted the Egyptian citizen held in Saudi Arabia and we helped him in contacting his family. But there were lots of insults directed to Saudi Arabia. That’s why Field Marshal Tantawi hastened to call King Abdullah to clear things out,” he said.
“The Saudi ambassador will return soon and all the Saudi consulates will be reopened. We [Egyptians] should control our tempers. We should learn a lesson from this crisis. We should not let any minority to force us to mess with our deep ties with other countries. Saudi Arabia has offered big support to Egypt after the revolution,” he said.
Assar warned that Egypt was facing a threat and everyone should be face that threat. “The Abbasiya clashes resulted in LE4 billion losses in the stock exchange,” he said.
The fighting on Wednesday near the Defense Ministry in Cairo between protesters and unknown assailants left scores killed and injured.
Criticism of the generals followed quickly, largely for the delayed response to the violence, and prompted armed forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Anan to complain that the military had become a hanger for blame. Military rulers have repeatedly warned that hidden hands were behind much of the unrest following the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak.
“We will never allow for a confrontation or violence with protesters,” the state-run al-Ahram quoted Anan as saying after a meeting with political groups on Wednesday.
During the meeting, which was boycotted by several leading political factions as a protest over the days violence, Anan also said the military is considering the possibility of handing over power on May 24 if a clear winner emerges from the first round of elections. The first round of the vote is slated to be held on May 23-24.
U.S. Senator John Kerry, who met Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s military ruler, told reporters on Thursday that he believed the military wanted to go back to the barracks and leave politics to the politicians.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was among those that boycotted Wednesday’s meeting, said the military was to blame for the violence.