CAIRO — Egypt's tense political situation appeared likely to worsen as the head of the country's military called Wednesday for Egyptians to demonstrate on Friday against terrorism, in what many feared was a green light for violence against supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi.
Hours after the speech by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose titles include deputy prime minister, defense minister and the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and who is clearly Egypt's strongman, the Obama administration took its first punitive steps against the Egyptian military, announcing that it had delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt's air force.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the United States no longer believes it is "appropriate to move forward with the delivery," though he did not cite a specific reason for the delay. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered the news personally to el-Sissi, Little said.
El-Sissi told a military graduation ceremony in Alexandria that a public outpouring on Friday would give the army a mandate to fight terrorists and combat violence. The military recently has used "terrorists" and "violence" to describe Morsi supporters and their activities.
Thousands of Morsi supporters have been demonstrating for Morsi's return to office since he was toppled July 3, including staging a sit-in near the headquarters of the Republican Guard, the elite military unit that many Morsi partisans believe is holding the deposed president.
The speech drew a variety of reactions, demonstrating how polarized Egypt has become. Within hours of his speech, a car exploded in the northern Sinai city of Arish, a hotbed of Islamists, killing two soldiers and three militants.