Egypt wary before Friday rallies
CAIRO -- Egypt braced for bloodshed Friday in rallies for and against the military that ousted President Mohamed Morsi as the army vowed to shoot violent protesters.
The grand imam of al-Azhar, considered by some Muslims the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought, urged rival protesters to remain peaceful, amid vows from both sides for a decisive struggle in Cairo's streets.
Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb also said in his televised audio address the call by Egyptian Commander in Chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for mass pro-military demonstrations Friday must be seen as a call for solidarity with the military.
Sisi appealed Wednesday for Egyptians to demonstrate en masse Friday to show he and the military have a "mandate" to quash dissent by Morsi backers.
Morsi was ousted July 3 by Sisi, 11 months after Morsi appointed him commander in chief and defense minister.
"I urge the people to take to the streets this coming Friday to prove their will and give me, the army and police a mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism," Sisi said, wearing full military uniform and dark glasses.
While Sisi asked protesters to refrain from violence, he urged them to take to the streets on the same day Morsi's mostly Islamist supporters planned some 34 marches in Cairo.
The army said on Facebook Thursday it would not turn its guns "against its people" but would readily shoot those committing "violence and terrorism, which has no religion or nation."
The military increasingly refers to Muslim Brotherhood members, who support Morsi, as "terrorists."
The Brotherhood, meanwhile, accused military-led authorities of stoking violence to legitimize an anti-Brotherhood crackdown ever since Morsi's ouster. The Brotherhood said Sisi and the military have a final goal of eliminating the Islamist religious, political and social movement, which was illegal in Egypt until after the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
The military has asked the Brotherhood to end its opposition and join a military-designed road map it promises will lead to parliamentary elections in February. The Brotherhood has refused, calling the government the military created illegitimate.
The White House expressed concern about possible Friday violence.
"The Obama administration is concerned by any rhetoric that inflames tensions and could possibly lead to more violence," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday.
"This is a critical time for Egyptians to come together if they want to -- particularly if they want to move beyond cycles of unrest and instability," Earnest said.
He said the administration urged security forces "to exercise maximum restraint and caution, and to do their utmost to prevent any clashes between opposing demonstrators -- and we reiterate our call for protesters to demonstrate peacefully."