CAIRO - In a stark warning from the powerful military, Egypt's defense minister and army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Tuesday, January 29, political turmoil could lead to the collapse of the state.
"The continuation of the struggle of the different political forces ... over the management of state affairs could lead to the collapse of the state," Sisi said in statements on the official army Facebook page and cited by Reuters.
He said the economic, political and social challenges facing the country represented "a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the Egyptian state".
"The attempts to undermine the stability of state institutions are a dangerous thing that harms national security and the future of the country".
But Sisi, who was appointed by President Mohamed Morsi last year, stressed that the army would remain the solid and cohesive block on which the state rests.
Army will remain strong ... as a pillar of the state's foundations."
The army warning came after days of deadly protests in Cairo and several Egyptian cities, which killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds.
Protests first flared to mark the second anniversary of the uprising that erupted on January 25, 2011 and toppled Hosni Mubarak 18 days later.
They have been exacerbated by riots in Port Said by residents enraged by a court ruling sentencing several people from the city to death over deadly soccer violence last year.
The protestors accuse Morsi of listening only to his Islamist friends and reneging on a pledge to be a president for all Egyptians.
Islamists say their rivals want to overthrow by undemocratic means Egypt's first freely elected leader.
The warning is unlikely to mean the army wants to take back the power it held, in effect, for six decades since the end of the colonial period and in the interim period after Mubarak's overthrow.
But it sends a powerful message that the Egypt's biggest institution, with a huge economic as well as security role and a recipient of massive direct US subsidies, is worried about the fate of the nation after five days of turmoil in major cities.
The army warning came as protestors in the Suez canal cities defied the curfew declared by Morsi.
He declared a curfew, and we declare civil disobedience, one protestor in Port Said told The New York Times.
Residents in the three canal cities demonstrated overnight in defiance of the curfew.
The army has already been deployed in Port Said and Suez and the government agreed a measure to let soldiers arrest civilians as part of the state of emergency.
Morsi's invitation to rivals to hold a national dialogue with Islamists on Monday was spurned by the main opposition National Salvation Front coalition, which described it as "cosmetic".
The only liberal politician who attended, Ayman Nour, told Egypt's al-Hayat channel after the meeting ended late on Monday that attendees agreed to meet again in a week.
He said Morsi had promised to look at changes to the constitution requested by the opposition but did not consider the opposition's request for a government of national unity.
Morsi's pushing through last month of a new constitution which critics see as too Islamic remains a bone of contention.
The instability in Egypt has provoked unease in Western capitals, where officials worry about the direction of a powerful regional player that has a peace deal with Israel.
The United States condemned the bloodshed and called on Egyptian leaders to make clear violence is not acceptable.
"We have engaged directly with the Egyptian government as they move forward on the difficult path towards greater democracy and rule of law, and we will continue to do so," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"There needs to be a lasting solution to the conflict that we see in Egypt and it has to be a solution that adheres to the rights of all Egyptians."Obviously, this is not a lasting solution," Carney said.