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25 April 2024

Egypt chief of staff says army will avoid politics

By Reuters

Egypt's armed forces, for decades at the centre of power, will avoid involvement in politics but could have a role if things became "complicated", the chief of staff said on Sunday.

It also expects rival political groups to solve disputes by dialogue, Major General Sedki Sobhi told Reuters

The military ran Egypt for six decades from the end of the colonial era and through an interim period after the overthrow of former air force chief and president Hosni Mubarak two years ago. 

About 60 people have been killed since late January in  protests that erupted after the second anniversary of the uprising.

 Speaking to Reuters at an industry event in Abu Dhabi, said that in a week or 15 days some kind of national dialogue would take shape between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and oppositioin groups.

The army would not back any political party, he said.  

"We are not political, we don't want to participate in the political situation because we suffered a lot because of this in the last six months," he said. 

"But sometimes we can help in this problem, we can play this role if the situation became more complicated," he said without elaborating.

Diplomats and analysts suggest the army, fearful of further damaging a reputation that took a beating during a messy transition period when it was in charge, would only act if Egypt faced unrest on the scale of the revolt that toppled Mubarak. 

Protests and violence now are nowhere near that stage. 

Sobhi's remarks were less categorical than those of General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the army chief, who said on Jan. 29 that unrest was pushing the state to the brink of collapse and the army would remain the "solid and cohesive block" on which the state rests.

In recent months, opposition groups have criticised President Mohammed Mursi's perceived drift towards authoritarianism, which they say fuelled this year's unrest.
Asked about security in Egypt, Sobhi downplayed violence during protests earlier this month.
"We cannot say it is a very serious or very dangerous," he said.

Liberal and Islamist political leaders met privately on Saturday to try to ease the latest tensions.

Politicians said Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent liberal activist and leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), met Saad El Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Another leader of the NSF, Sayed El Badawi, also took part in the talks.   

Previously the NSF had boycotted the idea of talks with President Mursi of the Brotherhood, who has been the target of protester rage in weeks of violent demonstrations.