CAIRO — Egypt's interior minister vowed Sunday that security forces would deal "firmly and strongly" with anyone who threatens national stability--a clear warning to supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
During a speech at a graduation ceremony of a new class of police officers, Mohammad Ibrahim called on the cadets to help return calm to the streets after months of unrest. The country’s top law enforcement officer said that no efforts would be spared in battling crime and terrorism, a veiled reference to backers of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The police are “executing the mission assigned to them by the people according to what national interest, duty and the law necessitate,” said Ibrahim, referring to Friday’s massive demonstrations held to support a crackdown against the Brotherhood’s protests and militant networks in the Sinai Peninsula.
Ibrahim’s comments were the latest signal that the new military-backed government was preparing to end a monthlong sit-in by thousands of Morsi’s Islamist supporters at the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque in Cairo. On Saturday, security forces and armed civilians killed at least 80 Islamists in clashes near the mosque, drawing an outcry from human rights groups.
The struggle between the government and the Brotherhood has deepened the nation’s political divisions and led to rival rallies and skirmishes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents. An 18-year-old man from Port Said was reported killed Sunday in overnight fighting.
Ibrahim welcomed the police graduates into “the birth of a new dawn, the fruit of the efforts of the loyal people of Egypt.” He saluted Egyptians for the success of the “glorious revolution on June 30,” which led to the July 3 coup that overthrew Morsi and isolated the Brotherhood and its allies.
At a news conference Saturday, Ibrahim had denied his police forces fired live rounds at the protesters. He said the sit-in, an increasing nuisance for neighborhood residents, some of whom have filed lawsuits, would be “dealt with soon.”
The minister said that the pro-Morsi demonstrators initiated Saturday’s clashes, firing live ammunition at police forces. Ibrahim said security personnel had been trying to disband a group of protesters intent on blocking traffic on a main city bridge.
Supporters of the deposed president however, maintain the attack against them was unprovoked. In statements and posts on social media websites, Morsi supporters have said they will hold their ground until Morsi is reinstated.
The police were once the despised symbol of President Hosni Mubarak’s repressive state, which was toppled in a 2011 uprising. But their reputation has improved among many Egyptians in recent months, especially because of their alliance with the military, the nation’s most popular institution.
Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, commander of the armed forces, called on citizens last week to take to the streets to give the military “authority to deal with violence and terrorism.” Days later, police officers joined the demonstrations amid crowds chanting that the military, police and the people “were one hand.”
Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman contributed to this story.