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Sisi’s Russia visit is seen as a move to reduce Egypt’s reliance on the US [EPA]
|Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would support a presidential bid from Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, wishing him luck after holding talks in Moscow.”I know that you, Mr defence minister, have decided to run for president of Egypt,” Putin said, according to Russian news reports.
“It’s a very responsible decision… I wish you luck both from myself personally and from the Russian people.”
Sisi, who is widely expected to run for Egypt’s top job, has not yet officially declared his candidacy and there was no announcement from the Egyptian government.
Sis and Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s foreign minister, also held separate talks with Sergei Shoigu and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian defence and foreign ministers.
“We are closely watching the situation in your country. We are interested in Egypt being a strong and stable country,” Shoigu said in his opening remarks at the meeting with Sisi, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
“In the current situation, it is good to adopt a new Egyptian Constitution in a national referendum … We believe your efforts to establish stability in the country are being effective.”
Shoigu also said Moscow supported Cairo’s efforts to “fight against terrorism”.
“In this regard, we will discuss in some important issues of military and military-technical cooperation, the terms of that and future prospects… We are interested in the development of such cooperation. Cooperation between our countries has deep historical roots,” he said.
Arms deal speculation
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from Moscow, said that well-informed sources have said a major weapons deal will be signed during the trip.
Russian and Egyptian media carried reports of a $2bn Gulf-funded arms agreement in the making between the countries. The reports said the deal is to be funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
If signed, it will underscore the Gulf states’ support for Egypt’s military-backed government.
The visit is also seen as a move to reduce Egypt’s reliance on the United States after relations cooled following the coup against former president Mohamed Morsi and Cairo’s harsh response to protests that followed it.
According to Brennan, Egyptian authorities have said they are not seeking to move away from their relationship with the US, but are instead working to diversify and add to their list of international allies.
Sisi made a rare appearance in civilian clothes on his way to Moscow, fuelling speculation he was trying to appear more presidential before announcing a bid for top office. The country’s top military body recently endorsed his candidacy .
He has become hugely popular among a large segment of Egyptians who see him as the nation’s saviour for ending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, who many accused of dominating power under Morsi.
Still, a deadly security crackdown on supporters that has left hundreds dead and a subsequent campaign of intimidation and arrests of secular-leaning critics have raised concerns about Sisi’s tolerance for dissent.
The government says it is in a war against terrorism, citing a wave of bombings and suicide attacks that have targeted police and the military, leaving scores dead and wounded.
|Cairo – At least 29 people have been killed across Egypt amidst nationwide protests on the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution, with unofficial reports of a death toll nearly twice as high.
The worst violence was directed at supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, who staged dozens of rallies across the country. Witnesses reported deadly clashes in Minya, Giza, Alexandria and several other governorates, and the health ministry said that 29 people were dead and more than 170 wounded by 8:30pm (1830GMT).
There were reports of numerous deaths in Alf Maskan, a neighbourhood in eastern Cairo, though the exact number could not be confirmed. Two witnesses in the area took photos that seemed to show at least nine dead bodies wrapped in shrouds.
The Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement that more than 50 people have been killed nationwide, though casualty figures released by the group have often been exaggerated in the past.
Armed groups also staged three attacks on security forces, the most spectacular of which reportedly brought down a military helicopter in North Sinai.
Two explosions rocked Cairo early on Saturday and a third followed in Suez, targeting a police base.
Activists opposed to both the army and the Brotherhood also tried to lay claim to the streets, with a rally in the Mohandiseen district around noon. They were chased off, only to regroup several hours later downtown, blocks away from Tahrir, where security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition.
The April 6 youth movement said one of its members was killed by gunfire, and by mid-afternoon the violence had prompted several revolutionary groups to urge supporters to go home.
But the main pro-military event in Tahrir Square was peaceful, protected by a heavy deployment of soldiers and police. The crowds gathered in the square made little mention of the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
Instead they came to celebrate General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who deposed morsi in July.
‘We refuse to submit’
Army helicopters orbited overhead, dropping Egyptian flags and coupons for free blankets. Crowds arrived throughout the afternoon, many of them chanting “the people demand the execution of the Brotherhood.” Others called for the “affirmation of the regime,” a play on the revolutionary slogan calling for its downfall.
“We want to show that we won’t go back to the Brotherhood, and we won’t be scared by their terrorism,” said Mohamed Salama, entering Tahrir Square with a group of about 20 people. “This is about correcting the path of the revolution.”
For many, the next step on that path should be electing Sisi to the presidency.
“Look around, he has our support. If he does not run, who will?” asked Amer Ali Said, an engineer.
Analysts say it is still unclear whether the general will run, though today’s rallies certainly seem to push him in that direction.
Thousands of Sisi’s supporters also gathered in other sites across the capital, and in governorates outside of Cairo. State television showed large crowds in Alexandria, Sohag, Fayoum and other cities. “We aren’t scared. All the people of Port Said, of Egypt, we are down in the streets today,” one man from Port Said told a state television reporter.
Local media reported that an army helicopter was shot down near the town of Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai, possibly by a missile. A military spokesman confirmed the helicopter crash, but would not comment on the cause.
The interior ministry confirmed a bombing outside a security barracks in Suez, which injured at least nine people. And a small explosion at a police building in eastern Cairo around 8am injured one person.
There were no claims of responsibility for Saturday’s attacks, which followed a series of four bombings across the capital on Friday. The deadliest, a car bomb, tore through the security directorate downtown, killing four people and injuring more than 70. Prosecutors said on Saturday that the vehicle used in the bombing had been stolen from the electricity ministry.
Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based armed group, claimed responsibility for all four.
|At least 11 people have been killed as Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashed with police in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, the country’s Health Ministry has said.
The ministry told Al Jazeera that four deaths were recorded in Cairo on Friday, two each in Alexandria, Ismaliya and Fayoum, and one in Minya in upper Egypt. Protesters said the real figure was much higher.
The ministry did not say whether the dead were protesters, police or bystanders.
Dozens more were reported injured, while at least 122 people have been arrested, according to medical and security officials.
The clashes come amid an ever-widening state crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Rallies in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi have turned increasingly violent ahead of a key referendum this month, which would ban religiously based political parties and give more power to the military.
It would be a further step towards the complete removal of the Brotherhood from public life after the group won every election in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011.
‘We are not afraid’
Protesters set fire to a police vehicle in Cairo using petrol bombs as police fought street battles with rock-throwing protesters in the capital.
“We are not afraid, we love Egypt and what we are doing is for Egypt,” said Mohamed Dahi, a 39-year-old protester, as he distributed leaflets calling for a boycott of the referendum.
“I am against all injustice and the military rule. I won’t accept any military rule in Egypt,” Dahi told the AFP news agency
as as he participated in a protest along with his 10-year-old son.
Demonstrators chanted “Down with military rule” and slogans against army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who removed Morsi from the presidency in July.
Cairo’s main squares were sealed off by security forces using barbed wire and military vehicles. They included Tahrir Square, as well as Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares, which were the sites of a bloody crackdown on Morsi’s supporters in August.
The clashes took place less than two weeks before a vote on a new constitution, a milestone in the road map which the army-backed authorities say will pave the way for a return to a democratic rule by next summer.
Protesters opposed to the army’s overthrow of Morsi have been holding daily demonstrations in Cairo and in other cities ever since the military government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” group last month, a move that upped the penalties for dissent.