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General warns he won’t let Brotherhood dominate Egypt

First comments on party since innauguration; Follow meeting with Clinton

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi made the tough comments only hours after he met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who urged him to work with President Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood on a full transition to civilian rule.

Handout/Reuters

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi made the tough comments only hours after he met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who urged him to work with President Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood on a full transition to civilian rule.

CAIRO — Egypt’s top general raised the stakes in the military’s political standoff with the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday, saying the armed forces will not allow a ‘‘certain group’’ to dominate the country.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi made the tough comments only hours after he met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who urged him to work with President Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood on a full transition to civilian rule.

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The military, which ruled after last year’s fall of Hosni Mubarak, and the Brotherhood, the country’s strongest political force, are in a competition over power that has intensified with Morsi’s victory in the presidential election last month.

Days before Morsi was sworn in on June 30, the Brotherhood-led Parliament was dissolved and the generals gave themselves legislative and budgetary authority and control over the process of drafting a new constitution, putting severe limits on the president’s authority.

In his comments Sunday, Tantawi did not specify the Brotherhood, but his reference that the military would not allow the group to hold sway was clear.

‘‘Egypt will never fall. It belongs to all Egyptians and not to a certain group — the armed forces will not allow it,’’ Tantawi told reporters after a handover ceremony for the transfer of command of the armed forces’ Second Army in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia.

‘‘The armed forces will not allow anyone, especially those pushed from outside, to distract it from its role as the protector of Egypt,’’ he said. ‘‘The army will never commit treason and will continue to perform its duties until Egypt reaches the shores of safety.’’

‘The armed forces will not allow anyone . . . to distract it from its role’ as Egypt’s protector.

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Tantawi has made similar comments at least once in the past, but it was the first time he made the statement since Morsi’s inauguration. It was an authoritative signal that the military has no intention of giving the Brotherhood free rein.

Tantawi, Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years, is the most senior of the generals who took power after Mubarak’s ouster 17 months ago.

The military and the Brotherhood have bad blood since the 1950s, when then-president Gamal Abdel-Nasser jailed the group’s leaders and hundreds if its members.

He ordered another crackdown in the early 1960s, jailing some again and executing a few. Mubarak spent most of his 29 years in office chasing after the Brotherhood, jailing thousands.

In meetings Saturday with Morsi and on Sunday with Tantawi, Clinton said the United States wanted the two sides to work together to bring a full civilian democratic rule.

Without taking a position in disputes over Parliament or how to draft a new constitution, Clinton urged the military chief to return the armed forces to a ‘‘purely national security role,’’ as she termed it Saturday.

On Sunday, Clinton said that resolving the impasse ‘‘requires dialogue and compromise, real politics.’’ The United States, she added, is doing all it can to ‘‘support the democratically elected government and to help make it a success in delivering results for the people of Egypt.’’

The United States is in a difficult spot when it comes to dealing with post-Mubarak Egypt. It is eager to be seen as a champion of democracy and human rights after three decades of close ties with the ousted leader despite his abysmal record in advancing those values.

This has involved some uncomfortable changes, including occasional criticism of America’s longtime faithful partners in Egypt’s military as it grabs more power. Washington has also given words of support for Islamist parties that are skeptical of US intentions in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.

That has fueled accusations among some Egyptians who back the military or oppose Islamists that the United States is promoting the rise of the Brotherhood to power.

Protesters chanting against the United States — sometimes reaching several hundred — have sprung up at several sites that Clinton visited this weekend. On Sunday, protesters threw tomatoes, water bottles, and shoes at her motorcade as she left a ceremony marking the opening of a new US consulate in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

The United States is looking to safeguard its interests in the region — from counterterrorism cooperation to Arab-Israeli peace efforts. But the deepening paralysis and lack of clarity over the leadership in Egypt has put much of its agenda on hold.

Clinton headed Sunday evening to Jerusalem, where she is tackling another realm where Washington’s influence has failed to bring a breakthrough, reviving Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Morsi’s efforts to recall Egypt’s Islamist-led Parliament — which was dissolved by the military last month — suffered a setback Saturday, when an appeals court said it stood by another court’s ruling that the chamber was invalid because a third of its members were illegally elected. Acting on the Supreme Constitutional Court’s June 14 verdict, the then-ruling military disbanded the 508-seat chamber.

Morsi defied that ruling and ordered the Legislature to reconvene last week. During a brief session of Parliament last week, speaker Saad el-Katatni referred the constitutional court’s ruling to the country’s highest appeals court for a legal opinion.

After a lengthy discussion on Saturday, the appeals court refused to take up the case, saying it had no jurisdiction over the implementation of the constitutional court’s ruling.

Another crisis was looming in the run-up to court rulings expected on Tuesday over the legitimacy of a 100-member panel elected by the dissolved Legislature to draft a new constitution.

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