Egypt's Military Chief Warns That Protests Could Lead To Collapse Of The State

Egypt's Defense Minister has warned that the country is on the brink of collapse amid continued rioting and clashes between police and protesters in several major cities. More than 50 people have died over the past four days, most of them in Port Said, at the northern end of the Suez Canal.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish. And we begin this hour in Egypt, where there were ominous words today from the country's military chief. He said the conflict between Egypt's political forces could lead to the collapse of the state. There have been intense anti-government protests across the country over the past few days and there has been violence. The main opposition group in Egypt has rejected dialogue to calm the situation.

NPR's Leila Fadel joins us to discuss the latest. And Leila, to start, tell us what's going on. How chaotic is the situation there?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, they're coming to the end of the fifth day of anti-government protests and it is a lot calmer compared to what we saw over the weekend and the past two days, where more than 50 people have been killed in violence. Things seem calmer, but there still seems to be no real solution of how to placate protestors, how to stop this violence. And a lot of people saying in parts of Egypt, it seems that the rule of law is breaking down.

CORNISH: Now, Egyptians are questioning the president's ability to lead the country out of this crisis. What steps has he taken so far?

FADEL: Over the weekend, he declared a state of emergency in three of the most restive cities, canal cities Port Said, Suez, Ismailia, and also a curfew. But people have been defiant, saying they no longer respect his authority among these protestors. We did an interview with senior Muslim Brotherhood advisor Gehad al-Haddad today, who talked about not only the anti-government protests being challenging, but also just generally that this is a new president dealing with an old bureaucracy.

This is what he had to say.

GEHAD AL-HADDAD: The president is doing his best. We have to understand that the bureaucracy of Egypt is about seven million men strong. It's infested with corruption and most of that corruption is controlled by the previous regime members still running many of the institutions and bodies within the state, and they are acting against the will of the president.

FADEL: In some ways this is one of the biggest tests to Morsi's rule so far. He's a new president. We do have to remember that - seven months in - and he's dealing with quite violent protests, people saying they will use violence now, frustrated with the situation in Egypt, the economic turmoil, the inability for things to progress.

CORNISH: Egypt's top military chief, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, warned of a collapse of the state. I mean, is that a real danger and is there a danger that the military would again want to take control if violence persists?

FADEL: I think there's a major concern that the government is not governing, is unable to govern, not only because of these protests but the fact that the economy is faltering so badly, the fact that they're unable to work with this old and aging bureaucracy. But I don't think that concerns of a military coup, that they will step in and retake power, is a real danger.

I think that many people saw that during the military rule after former President Hosni Mubarak's ouster, they were unable to placate protestors themselves. They were uncomfortable being responsible and accountable, and they don't want that to happen again. Sisi today was warning that political factions need to agree on something, need to lead the state out of this crisis.

There's been a lot of finger-pointing, the opposition saying the Brotherhood-led government is disingenuous when it's calling for dialogue, the Brotherhood saying how can we solve this if the dialogue won't happen. Let's hear again from Gehad al-Haddad, the Muslim Brotherhood advisor.

AL-HADDAD: They have to offer alternative policies. It's not a good policy to stand on the sideline, point to the guy in charge and say he's a bad guy. You have to offer something different.

FADEL: Right now it's just very difficult to predict what will happen next.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you.

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