CAIRO — Egypt’s military-led government instructed its security forces Wednesday to end two large sit-ins in the capital by supporters of the deposed Islamist president, a decree that risked a new round of violent convulsions in the country’s political crisis.
In a televised statement, the interim Cabinet said the sit-ins in support of the deposed president, Mohammed Morsi, were disruptive and represented “a threat to the Egyptian national security and an unacceptable terrorizing of citizens.”
Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathizers have been occupying two large squares in Cairo — Rabaa Al Adaweya and Nahdet Masr — to protest the July 3 ouster of Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president.
The protesters have vowed to stay in the squares until he is released from detention and reinstated in office. That outcome has looked increasingly improbable, as the interim authorities have expanded a crackdown on the Brotherhood and have moved to oust Islamists appointed by Morsi from government posts.
More than 140 pro-Morsi demonstrators were killed by security forces in violent confrontations in Cairo July 8 and this past Saturday, further polarizing a country in the throes of its worst crisis since the revolution that toppled Morsi’s autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, in February 2011.
Rights groups denounced the interim Cabinet’s decree as a new provocation to violence.
“Given the Egyptian security forces’ record of policing demonstrations with the routine use of excessive and unwarranted lethal force, this latest announcement gives a seal of approval to further abuse,” Amnesty International said in a statement on its website, calling the decree a “recipe for further bloodshed.”
The interim Cabinet’s televised statement, read by the country’s minister of media, Doreyya Sharaf el-Din, appeared intended to establish a legal basis for dispersing the sit-ins by force. The minister said the decree was necessary because of “the huge mandate given to the state by the people in dealing with the terrorism and the violence that threaten the dissolution of the state and the collapse of the homeland, and in order to protect the national security and higher interest of the country and the social peace and the safety of citizens.”
She said the Interior Ministry had been instructed “to take all the necessary measures in that regard within the framework of the provisions of the Constitution and the law.”
The Obama administration, which has been engaged in a balancing act on how to deal with the Egypt crisis, expressed concern about the new decree. Asked about it at a daily State Department briefing in Washington, the deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said: “We have continued to urge the interim government officials and security forces to respect the right of peaceful assembly. That obviously includes sit-ins.”
On Tuesday, two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, frequent critics of President Obama, said he had asked them to visit Egypt next week to help persuade the interim leaders to move forward with new elections and an inclusive government. The senators said they would convey a bipartisan message from the United States, which has regarded Egypt as a crucial Arab ally in the Middle East for decades and provides $1.5 billion in annual aid.
Morsi has been detained by the military since he was overthrown and his whereabouts kept secret.