General signals Egypt army staying out of politics

CAIRO Sat May 11, 2013 2:19pm EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - The army is not the answer to Egypt's political problems, the army chief said on Saturday, urging Egyptians to find a way to get along in comments that appeared to rule out any military intervention in the country's political standoff.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in comments reported online by the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, called for "a framework for consensus". "The alternative is extremely dangerous," he said.

President Mohamed Mursi's most extreme critics have been urging the army to remove the Islamist head of state elected last June, demanding the type of intervention that led to Hosni Mubarak's removal from power at the peak of an uprising in 2011.

But Sisi's comments appeared one of the clearest indications to date that the army intends to stay out of a deeply polarized political landscape split between Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamists and secular-minded parties.

"With all respect for those who say to the army: 'go into the street', if this happened, we won't be able to speak of Egypt moving forward for 30 or 40 years," Sisi said.

"No one is going to remove anybody, and nobody should think that the army has the solution," he said, in an apparent response to those calling on the army to remove Mursi.

He was speaking at a military training exercise attended by public figures including artists and media personalities.

The divide between Mursi and his opponents has grown deeper since the president issued a decree late last year that was seen by critics as a power grab and allowed his Islamist allies to fast track a new constitution into law. The tension has fuelled spasms of street violence.

Following violence in late January, Sisi warned that the struggle between Egypt's rival parties could lead to the "collapse of the state". He added that the army would remain "the sold and cohesive block" upon which the state rests.

Diplomats have said the army has shown no interest in taking back the executive powers it handed to Mursi last year.

The opposition has been demanding that Mursi establish a neutral government to oversee parliamentary elections due later this year. Instead, Mursi swore in a reshuffled cabinet on Tuesday that expanded the Brotherhood's share of seats and brought no opposition voices into cabinet.

In a sign of the army's support for the political transition being led by Mursi, Sisi said queuing for 10 or 15 hours to vote was "better than destroying the country".

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

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