CAIRO (AP) — A leading Islamist politician accused opponents on Thursday of teaming up with remnants of Hosni Mubarak's toppled regime to sow unrest and violence.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, in his weekly message to followers, also charged politicians he did not name of using foreign funds to instigate violence.
He claimed that opponents of Egypt's Islamist-dominated government have cast off their calls for democracy, liberalism and the rights of people in order to "destroy, burn, kill, shed blood and manufacture crises to drag the country into a cycle of violence and counter-violence."
His comments depicted street protests against the Brotherhood and the president, a longtime leader of the group, as the work of paid thugs and politicians bent on destabilizing the country for personal aim.
They came days after the worst clashes in three months between anti-government protesters and supporters of the Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political group.
Badie did not mention any particular group of anti-government activists by name, but appeared to direct his criticism at the National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition. The front has consistently distanced itself from violence, insisting it does not incite or condone it.
He also claimed it was the Brotherhood that turned protests in the early days of the 2011 uprising into a full-fledged revolution and then went on to protect the achievements.
However, the revolution was led primarily by secular and liberal youth groups now rallying against the democratically elected, Brotherhood-dominated government.
The youth groups maintain that the Brotherhood did not officially join the uprising until it became clear that its momentum was irreversible.
But they acknowledge that the Brotherhood gave the uprising the muscle it needed to fend off attacks by armed Mubarak's loyalists against protesters gathered at Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests.
Badie's criticism of the opposition echoed comments by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Several times this week, Morsi alleged that recent unrest was the work of paid thugs, not real "revolutionaries."
He has claimed that foreign powers he did not name had a "finger" meddling in Egypt's internal affairs and vowed to bring to justice politicians suspected of inciting violence.
"There is an enemy outside Egypt and there is a devil inside that is maliciously messing with people's minds," Morsi told Egyptian expatriates in Qatar on Tuesday. He was in the Gulf state to attend an Arab League summit.
Badie said the Brotherhood has exercised restraint and stayed on a positive course to "build, develop and try to reform."
Referring to what he called enemies at home and Mubarak loyalists, he said: "They are trying to push us back to square one in the hope that people will lose faith in the revolution and that by manufacturing crises, failures and spreading rumors, people will dream of the return of the old regime complete with its shortcomings, injustices, defeats, backwardness and treason."
He urged his opponents to keep the competition "peaceful and honorable" in the service of the nation.
"Let us deny the saboteurs and those with ulterior motives at home and abroad the opportunity to sow sedition, burn the nation and take us back in time."
In the latest bout of violence on March 22, protesters and Brotherhood supporters clashed outside the group's headquarters in the capital, Cairo.
The violence was rooted in an incident a week earlier when Brotherhood members slapped a woman to the ground and beat up other activists who were spray-painting graffiti against the group outside its headquarters in an eastern district of Cairo.
Several reporters at the scene were also attacked. The Brotherhood said they were part of the protest.
In response, anti-Brotherhood activists called for a protest at the headquarters. Both sides brought out hundreds of supporters, and the scene quickly turned violent.
The clashes deepened the schism in Egypt that has been steadily widening since Morsi came to office in June as the country's first freely elected president. The Islamist leader and his allies are in one camp, while moderate Muslims, liberals, seculars, minority Christians and a large segment of women are in the other.
Badie also sought to claim for the Brotherhood the mantle of protectors of the uprising that overthrew Mubarak.
He suggested that the pro-democracy youth groups universally credited with engineering the popular revolt played second fiddle to the Brotherhood, which emerged in the wake of Mubarak's ouster as Egypt's most dominant political force.
"Our movement, together with honorable members of the patriotic opposition, was the direct cause of (the revolution). Our (Brotherhood) youth provided its fuel and strength from the very start," he said.
He also credited the group with protecting the revolution by standing up to bands of Mubarak loyalists who attacked crowds in Tahrir Square.
Also on Thursday, a Cairo court ordered the release of Egypt's former oil minister, Sameh Fahmy, after a retrial was approved for him earlier this week. Fahmy is the latest member of Mubarak's former Cabinet to win a retrial after his 15-year sentence on corruption charges was annulled. He was accused of harming the country's interests by exporting natural gas to Israel for prices lower than those prevailing on world markets at the time.