- Massive rally planned for Cair's Tahrir Square
- 40 dead, 2,000 injured in recent protests
- Elections set to begin Monday
- Muslim Brotherhood expected to make big gains
- Elections will be held over 3 months
Egypt's military ruler made a plea to his countrymen to get out and vote while he also warned of "extremely grave" consequences if the turbulent nation does not pull through its current crisis with landmark parliamentary elections starting Monday.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi urged in a news conference Sunday that "the great Egyptian people those who can vote and beg them to go and vote tomorrow, because we want the parliament to be balanced and we want it to include all groups to be represented."
Earlier, Tantawi claimed "foreign hands" were behind the latest wave of unrest, an assertion similar to those made by Hosni Mubarak in his final days in power before he was ousted in a popular uprising in February. Tantawi was Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years.
In comments carried by the nation's official news agency, Tantawi rejected calls for him and other generals on the ruling military council he heads to immediately step down.
His declaration came on the eve of parliamentary elections as protesters in Cairo gathered for another huge rally Sunday following two weeks of protests which have resulted in deadly clashes with security forces.
Organizers of the "Legitimacy of the Revolution" rally say activists in Cairo’s Tahrir Square will continue to demand that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) hand power to a civilian government
It was the ninth straight day of a revival of the protest movement that toppled Mubarak. At least 41 protesters have been killed in and more than 2,000 have been wounded, most of them in Cairo.
Over the weekend, Mohamed ElBaradei, a prospective Egyptian presidential candidate, said he would drop his bid for president if the ruling council allowed him to become the interim prime minister.
The former head of the UN nuclear agency said he was "willing to respond to the demands of the youth of the revolution and the political forces calling for a national salvation government that represents all the national forces."
'Egypt is at a crossroads'
The military took the reins of power when Mubarak was ousted. But it has come under intense criticism for most of the past nine months for its failure to restore security, stop the rapid worsening of the economy or introduce the far-reaching reforms called for by the youth groups behind Mubarak's fall and the ongoing protest movement.
Tantawi said the military will follow through with its somewhat vague road map for handing over power. The ruling council never set a precise date for transferring authority to an elected civilian administration, only pledging that presidential elections — the last step in the handover process — will be held before the end of June 2012.
"We will not allow troublemakers to meddle in the elections," he said. "Egypt is at a crossroads — either we succeed politically, economically and socially or the consequences will be extremely grave and we will not allow that."
Tantawi also accused foreign powers he did not name of meddling in Egypt's affairs.
"None of this would have happened if there were no foreign hands," he said. "We will not allow a small minority of people who don't understand to harm Egypt's stability," he said, apparently alluding to the protesters in Tahrir, epicentre of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak.