Egypt's army chief says nation in trouble

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CAIRO -- Egypt's army chief said political strife was pushing the state to the brink of collapse, a stark warning from the institution that ran the country until last year as Cairo's first freely elected leader struggles to contain bloody street violence.

Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appointed by President Mohamed Morsi last year to head the military, added in a statement yesterday that one of the primary goals of deploying troops in cities on the Suez Canal was to protect the waterway vital for the economy and world trade.

Sisi's comments, published on an official army Facebook page, followed 52 deaths in a week of disorders and highlighted the mounting sense of crisis facing the Islamist head of state who is struggling to fix a teetering economy and needs to prepare Egypt for a parliamentary election in a few months that is meant to cement the new democracy.

Morsi, meanwhile, was to leave today for a short trip to Germany to seek urgently needed foreign investment.

Violence largely subsided yesterday. Some youths again hurled rocks at police lines in Cairo near Tahrir Square.

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It seemed unlikely that Sisi was signaling the army wants to take back the power it held for six decades since the end of the colonial era and through an interim period after the overthrow two years ago of former air force chief Hosni Mubarak.

But his message sent a powerful message that Egypt's biggest institution, with a huge economic as well as security role and a recipient of direct U.S. subsidies, is worried about the fate of the nation, after five days of turmoil in major cities.

Sisi, who is also defense minister in the government Morsi appointed, said the economic, political and social challenges facing the country represented "a real threat to the security of Egypt" and the army would remain "the solid and cohesive block" on which the state rests.

Thousands were again on the streets of Port Said to mourn the deaths of two people in the latest clashes there, taking the total toll in the Mediterranean port alone to 42 people.

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