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Egypt's Morsi rejects army ultimatum on protests

Photo: AFP

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi rejected an army ultimatum Monday giving him 48 hours to respond to the demands of thousands of protesters. The military has threatened to draw up its own “road map for the future” if the demands are ignored.

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Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has rejected an army ultimatum on Monday giving him 48 hours to respond to the demands of thousands of protesters or face a military intervention.

A presidential statement denounced "any declaration that would deepen division" or "threaten the social peace" in the country.

"The civil democratic Egyptian state is one of the most important achievements of the January 25 revolution," the statement continued, referring to the 2011 uprising that toppled former ruler Hosni Mubarak.

"Egypt will absolutely not permit any step backward, whatever the circumstances," it added.

A day after millions of Egyptians across the country took to the streets urging Morsi’s resignation, the country’s powerful military issued a statement calling on Egypt’s politicians to “meet the demands of the people” within 48 hours or the army would be forced to “announce a road map for the future and the steps for overseeing its implementation”.

In the statement, which was broadcast on state television, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the latest protests reflected an “unprecedented” expression of popular anger against Morsi.

Opposition would not back 'military coup'

Egypt's main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), said Tuesday it would not support a "military coup", noting that the army’s ultimatum did not mean the armed forces would be assuming a more political role.

"The NSF has been committed, since its formation on 22 November, 2012, to build a civil, modern and democratic state that allows the participation of all political trends, including political Islam,” a statement from the group said. “We trust the army's declaration, reflected in their statement, that they don't want to get involved in politics, or play a political role.”

The tens of thousands of Egyptians who gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday night welcomed the military ultimatum.

“Tahrir Square is packed to the gills tonight,” said FRANCE 24’s Kathryn Stapley, reporting from Cairo. “People have come out in the tens of thousands, the streets and side streets are packed down to the bridges. They’ve been galvanised by the sheer number of people who turned out yesterday as well as the army statement today.”

“There was an explosion of joy here in Tahrir Square,” Stapley said. “Many of the protesters here have taken that statement to mean that the army has taken the protesters’ side.”

Protesters on the streets of Cairo cheered, honked their car horns and waved flags as army helicopters hovered over Tahrir Square, dropping Egyptian flags on the protesters. "Come down Sisi, Morsi is not my president," protesters chanted, urging the country's army chief to intervene.

Hours after the first announcement, Egypt’s armed forces issued a second declaration denying that the earlier statement by Sisi amounted to a military coup and said his aim was only to push politicians to reach consensus.

Morsi meets army chief

Shortly after the announcement, Morsi and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil met with General Sisi, according to a statement posted on the Egyptian president’s official Facebook page, which showed a photograph of the three men. The statement did not provide details of when or where the photograph was taken.

More than two years after the fall of Mubarak, Egypt is once again at the centre of international attention as the world’s most populous Arab nation confronts divisions between Islamist supporters and secular Egyptians, watched over by a powerful military that briefly – and disastrously – held power shortly after Mubarak’s ouster.

During a visit to Tanzania, US President Barack Obama renewed a call for Morsi and his opponents to cooperate, just as Sisi's statement was being broadcast on Egyptian state TV.

The Pentagon, which heavily funds the Egyptian army, said it could not speculate on what was happening in Egypt.

‘Very embarrassing for Morsi’

As the political uncertainty grew, Morsi was hit with a spate of resignations, including by his foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr and the ministers of tourism, environment, investment and legal affairs.

“This is very embarrassing for Mohammed Morsi,” said Stapley, noting that the ministers were technocrats hand-picked by the Egyptian president. “It just shows that the divisions here are reaching from the grassroots – from a signature campaign that ordinary citizens signed stating that they have no confidence in the president – right up to the heart of his government.”

Earlier on Monday, the campaign that spearheaded Sunday’s mass protests announced that it would give Morsi until 5pm local time (3pm GMT) on Tuesday, July 2, to leave power, allowing state institutions to prepare for early presidential elections.

The campaign, called Tamarod – or rebellion in Arabic – claims to have collected 22 million signatures in an online campaign calling on the president to resign. Morsi backers have questioned the authenticity of the signatures.

Tamarod’s call for Morsi’s resignation came as protesters stormed the headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo on Monday morning, burning the premises and looting office supplies in the course of a long siege that left at least seven people dead.

(FRANCE 24 with wires) 

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