CAIRO: The Muslim Brotherhood's leader on Thursday made an unusually harsh attack on Egypt's military chief, saying his ouster of President Mohammed Morsi was a worse crime than even destroying the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine.
Mohammed Badie's comment, which came in his weekly message to followers, underlined the anger felt by Islamists over the July 3 coup by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, which followed mass protests by millions demanding that Morsi step down. Morsi is a veteran figure from the Brotherhood.
His analogy between the coup and destroying the Kaaba takes to a new level the enmity between the camp of Islamists led by the Brotherhood and their opponents, including liberals, moderate Muslim and secular Egyptians and minority Christians.
It also appears designed to whip up religious sentiments against el-Sissi on the eve of mass rallies that the general called for as a show of support for planned action by the military and the police to stop "violence and terrorism" by Morsi's supporters.
Islamists are holding their own rallies on Friday as well, part of their campaign to reinstate Morsi to office.
Badie, who has an arrest warrant against him for allegedly inciting violence, also called el-Sissi a "traitor" and urged him to repent.
"I swear by God that what el-Sissi did in Egypt is more criminal than if he had carried an axe and demolished the holy Kaaba stone by stone," said Badie, who also called on followers to take out to the streets on Friday, raising the specter of violence between the two camps.
The Kaaba is the cube-shaped shrine in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that Muslims around the world face in their daily prayers.
Morsi's supporters have been staging sit-ins in two locations in Cairo since before Morsi's July 3 ouster. There have been deadly clashes between them and opponents of the ousted leader in the Egyptian capital and elsewhere as well as a dramatic rise in attacks blamed on radical Islamists in the strategic Sinai Peninsula.
Close to 200 people have been killed in the latest wave of violence to roil Egypt since the ouster in Feb. 2011 of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt's highest security body, the National Defense Council, issued a statement on Thursday saying authorities were committed to ensuring the safety of all peaceful protesters, but warned that no tolerance would be shown to anyone who threatens security. It also pledged that authorities would stay within the law and the boundaries of human rights when measures are taken to end the "terrorizing of citizens and breaking the law."
The statement, issued after the council met late Wednesday, sought to reassure Egyptians that el-Sissi's call for rallies was not a bid to secure a popular cover for extrajudicial measures or gross human rights violations against Islamists. The council is currently led by interim President Adly Mansour and includes the prime minister and the defense and interior ministers.
Pro-democracy activists have since el-Sissi's call for rallies recalled the human rights abuses, including torturing detainees, blamed on the military during its direct rule for nearly 17 months after Mubarak's ouster.
"I hope that the voice of the people tomorrow will be loud and resounding, but also peaceful," interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi told reporters on Thursday. Clearly addressing the secular and liberal camp, he said: "Whoever wants to reassert the civilian state must come out in force."
El-Beblawi also commended el-Sissi's call for the rallies, calling the general a "cornerstone in the defense of the civilian state."
"Tomorrow is the day for the expression of views, freely and responsibly. Whoever tries to spoil the party will be dealt with firmly," he said.