Cairo: Egypt has entered a perilous 48 hours with the military delivering an ultimatum to the country’s first democratically elected president, hundreds of thousands of protesters renewing calls to oust him from office and the president’s Islamists allies vowing to take to the streets to stop what they called ‘‘a military coup.’’
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Egyptian army helicopters circle Cairo
RAW VIDEO: Armed forces give politicians 48 hours to resolve calls for the resignation of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
In a military communique read over state television that echoed the announcement toppling former President Hosni Mubarak two chaotic years ago, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces demanded Monday that President Mohammed Mursi satisfy the public’s demands within two days, or else the generals would impose their own ‘‘road map’’ out of the crisis.
But instead of soothing the volatile standoff between Dr Mursi’s opponents and his supporters, the generals seemed to add to the uncertainty that has paralysed the state, decimated the economy and brought millions into the streets Sunday demanding the president step down.
It was not clear what the military meant when it said Dr Mursi must satisfy the public’s demands, what it might do if that vague standard was not met.
The generals did, however, open a new confrontation with Dr Mursi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood with its threat to impose a political ‘‘road map’’ on the president. Brotherhood members rallied in half a dozen cities to denounce the threat of a military takeover, a reminder that the group remains a potent force unwilling to give up the power it has waited 80 years to wield.
‘‘We understand it as a military coup,’’ one adviser to Dr Mursi said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential negotiations.Dr Mursi and the military’s top officer, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, entered a delicate negotiation Monday, one fraught with risks for both men, and for the nation.
Racked with fuel shortages, dwindling hard currency reserves and worries about its wheat supplies, Egypt urgently needs a government stable and credible enough to manage difficult and disruptive economic reforms.
A move by the military to force the Brotherhood from power, despite its electoral victories, could trigger an Islamist backlash in the streets that would make stability and economic growth even more elusive.
President Barack Obama called Dr Mursi late Monday, Dr Mursi aides said. They described Mr Obama’s message as a confirmation that the White House was continuing to deal with Dr Mursi as Egypt’s elected president and to support the country’s transition to civilian democracy.
In a sternly worded statement issued early on Tuesday, Dr Mursi’s office said it was continuing with its plans for dialogue and reconciliation with its opponents.
No coup against legitimacy of any kind will pass except over our dead bodies
Noting that it was not consulted before the military made its statement, Dr Mursi’s office asserted that ‘‘some of its phrases have connotations that may cause confusion in the complicated national scene’’ and suggested it ‘‘deepens the division between the people’’ and ‘‘may threaten the social peace no matter what the motivation.’’
Earlier, speaking to a crowd of Islamists armed with makeshift clubs and hard hats at a rally in Cairo, a senior Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Beltagy, called on the crowd to defend Dr Mursi’s ‘‘legitimacy’’ as the elected president.
‘‘No coup against legitimacy of any kind will pass except over our dead bodies,’’ he said, dismissing the latest protests as ‘‘remnants’’ of the Mubarak elite.
In another blow to the government, though, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr tendered his resignation, state news agency MENA reported early on Tuesday.
If confirmed, the foreign minister’s exit would lift the tally to six minister who have stepped down since Sunday’s huge protests.
For its part, the military denied it was preparing a coup.
‘‘The armed forces will not be party to the circle of politics or ruling, and the military refuses to deviate from its assigned role in the original democratic vision,’’ the generals insisted.
They had made a similar pledge when they took power two years ago, but as the Islamist pressure grew Monday night the generals issued a second statement specifically denying that they planned a ‘‘military coup.’’
‘‘The conviction and culture of the Egyptian armed forces doesn’t allow following the policy of ’military coups,’’’ the statement declared, though it was a military coup that brought Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser to power 60 years ago.
"The military is back in Egyptian politics in a very serious, direct way," Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, said. "We're going to have to see whether or not this constitutes a real military coup and what they do in particular about Dr Mursi's presidency.
Earlier on Monday, Egyptian security forces arrested 15 armed bodyguards of the number two in the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat El-Shater, after an exchange of fire in which no one was injured, security sources said.
The Brotherhood's political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), denied the report, and quoted Mr Shater as saying his private driver had been kidnapped after shooting in the area.
The sources said the shootout occurred when security forces went to arrest the guards for alleged unlawful possession of firearms they are suspected of having used to shoot at protesters attacking the Brotherhood's headquarters on Sunday.
Eight people were killed and more than a dozen injured in clashes around the Brotherhood building on a suburban hilltop overlooking Cairo. Protesters earlier stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, setting its first floor ablaze.
New York Times, with agencies