CAIRO — Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt's minister of defense, made his first public comments Sunday about the violence that led to more than 1,000 deaths, including 79 on Saturday, offering a conciliatory tone to supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
But el-Sissi and military-appointed government officials named after Morsi's July 3 ouster defended their actions, saying they were protecting the state from those who want to destroy it and would not tolerate violent protests. Without naming the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization through which Morsi rose to the presidency, they described their foes as groups aiming to "intimidate the citizens."
Meanwhile, on a day when quiet had settled on streets that had been scenes of violent clashes since Wednesday, 36 Islamist prisoners were killed during an attempted jailbreak, according to Egypt's official MENA news agency, which cited an unidentified security official.
The prisoners reportedly kidnapped a police officer and were assisted by "unknown gunmen," according to the news agency. A Muslim Brotherhood-connected group alleged that police killed the inmates during a transfer to another prison, MENA reported.
Speaking of the violence in recent days, el-Sissi and others commended the government's "self restraint" and said they, too, were saddened by the loss of life. El-Sissi spoke to army forces Sunday. Such rhetoric, coupled with Morsi supporters' conviction that the cause is worth dying for, has turned Egypt into battleground of competing interests.
"We will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people or the torching (of) the nation and terrorizing the citizens," el-Sissi was quoted as saying in a post on the military's Facebook page.
El-Sissi, who announced Morsi's removal, said the government would reconcile with those with no blood on their hands, but offered no specifics about who that included or what reconciliation could look like.
"There is room for everyone in Egypt, and we are cautious about every drop of Egyptian blood," el-Sissi said.
Other government officials, however, have suggested that there is no place for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's political future.
Sunday, the start of the workweek here, brought the calmest day since more than 600 Morsi supporters were killed in clashes with security forces Wednesday. But the nation remained tense as Egyptians waited for what today would bring. Morsi supporters have called for a weeklong protest against the military and its civilian-appointed government.
The Muslim Brotherhood canceled some of its planned protests just before they were set to start, citing security concerns. But even before the cancellation, it appeared the protesters chose to not come out, either out of fear, to reorganize their approach, to mourn their dead, or in an effort to return to normal functions like work.
According to the state news agency, 79 people were killed Saturday, as Friday protests extended into a second day and a faceoff at al-Fath mosque in Cairo.