Egypt: Islamists' protests threaten national security

A boy stands guard during a Muslim Brotherhood protest near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo Sunday. Mohammed Saber / EPA

CAIRO -- Egypt will take “all necessary measures” to deal with sit-ins by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, the interim government said Wednesday, saying they posed a threat to national security.

Supporters of the Islamist group have been staging protests since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi that have at times led to violent clashes involving the security services and Morsi’s opponents. At least 100 people were killed on Saturday alone.

The interim government installed by the military, which ousted Islamist Morsi on July 3, issued a statement signaling it had had enough of the demonstrations.

“The Prime Ministry Council [the interim cabinet] said the continuation of the dangerous situation in Rabaa and Nahda [Cairo squares] is threatening the security of the country and the dangerous situation is posing an unacceptable risk to citizens,” it said.

“The Prime Minister is designating the Interior Minister to take all necessary measures to combat these dangers according to the constitution and law,” the statement added.

An Interior Ministry statement released later said that authorities will take gradual steps to disband the sit-ins: warning protesters to leave the area, using tear gas if protesters don't leave and finally deploying "legitimate self-defense.” They did not elaborate on what that means, but police deny allegations that they use live ammunition against protesters.

Egyptian authorities have also referred the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and two other senior officials in the movement to a court on charges of inciting violence, Reuters reported.

Activists from a group called "Third Square" shout slogans as they gather to oppose Islamists and the country's powerful military at Cairo's Sphinx Square Tuesday. Asmaa Waguih / Reuters

The wire service also reported an attempt to create a “Third Square” movement, promoting a middle path to avert conflict in the most populous Arab state.

"We are stuck between two bad options: an army killing without reason and an intolerant Islamist movement which wants a theocratic state," Tariq Ismaeli, a 34-year-old civil engineer in jeans and red sneakers, told Reuters at a rally on Sunday. "We are trying to establish a new voice.”

The rally in Cairo's Sphinx square drew about 300 liberals, leftists and moderate Islamists dismayed by Saturday's carnage.

Their banners carried the faces of Morsi and Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah Sissi that had been crossed out in red and a blunt message: "Topple all who betrayed us. No to theocracy. No to the military junta. Yes to a civil state."

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.