General Abdulfattah al-Sisi, who removed Mr Morsi from power in a coup backed by the president’s secular and liberal opponents, urged Egyptians to turn out on Friday to give him a “mandate” to quell violence at recent anti-government protests.
“On Friday, every honourable and honest Egyptian must come out,” he said during a speech at a graduation ceremony for military cadets in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria on Wednesday. “Please, shoulder your responsibility with me, your army and the police, and show your size and steadfastness in the face of what is going on.”
In an indication of America’s equivocal stance on the matter, Washington, which has been reluctant to label the unrest a coup, said that the sale of four F-16 jets to Egypt had been delayed, but that its annual military exercise with Egypt was still on.
George Little, a Pentagon press secretary, said the delay was deemed “prudent” in light of the “current situation”, but said there had been no decision made on whether to suspend the $1.3 billion (£840 million) in annual military aid to the country.
More than 100 people have been killed in the three weeks since Mr Morsi was toppled, as supporters of the former president have clashed with both supporters of the coup and the security forces.
Islamic militants have also stepped up attacks on troops in Egypt’s lawless Sinai Peninsula, with two soldiers killed in an ambush on Wednesday and a car bomb near a police training centre.
While Gen Sisi’s comments did not specifically name one political faction or another, they were seen as an attempt to seek public backing for a decisive move against supporters of Mr Morsi, who have vowed to stage street protests until he is returned to power.
The former president is currently in detention along with a number of other top figures in his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
A statement from the Brotherhood said Mr Sisi’s comments were “an announcement of civil war.”
Egypt’s public prosecutor on Thursday night issues fresh arrest warrants for senior Brotherhood figures over accusations of inciting violence.
Dr Wael Haddara, a senior Morsi aide who is visiting London this week, described Friday’s planned demonstration as a “mob action” that was likely to encourage the very kind of state-sponsored violence it purported to avoid.
“The expectation is that the protesters will be painted as terrorists, with all stops then pulled out to get rid of them, on the pretext of ridding the country of terrorism,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Dr Haddara is due to speak at a meeting on Thursday in the House of Lords, where he will outline the Brotherhood’s concern at the West’s ambiguous attitude to Mr Morsi’s overthrow. The Brotherhood says that Britain and the US were far too muted in their condemnation of the coup, which they point out removed a democratically-elected government. They argue that had the army removed a secular government at Islamists’ behest, rather than the other way around, the criticism in the West would have been far greater.
“My message to the House of Lords and to Britons in general is that they need to decide what they stand for,” said Dr Haddara. “Is it expediency, to deal with whoever is in power, or do they actually believe in democracy?”
“The entire Muslim world is watching, and if the West just twiddles its thumbs and allows democracy in Egypt to be strangled, then many people may decide that there is not point in listening to Western lectures on democracy.”