Egypt’s military on Monday threatened to intervene in the political crisis gripping the nation and gave President Mohammed Morsi and the opposition 48 hours to come up with a plan to meet the demands of millions of protesters who want the Islamist leader to resign by Tuesday evening.
The military said it would offer its own “road map” if the “will of the people” is not respected, as masses of demonstrators rallied for a second day in Cairo.
A statement by Army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, read on state TV, described the protests in Cairo and in other cities across Egypt as peaceful and civilized and stressed the importance of agreeing to the demands of the demonstrators.
The military said its ultimatum was a “last chance.” Last week, it set a week’s deadline for all sides to resolve the crisis. That deadline expired Sunday.
“Wasting more time will only bring more division and conflict,” said Gen. al-Sisi, who also serves as Egypt’s defense minister.
Hours later, the military issued a second statement saying it was not staging a coup and would not be part of a government. The military has said for several months that it has no intention of taking power, which it held for a year and a half after Arab Spring protests ended President Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule on Feb. 11, 2011.
Mr. Morsi met with Gen. al-Sisi along with Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil late Monday, according to a statement on the president’s official Facebook page.
Pro-Morsi forces reacted Monday night by rallying by the thousands in several cities, and some clashes were reported.
President Obama, who was in Tanzania on Monday, noted that Mr. Morsi was democratically and legitimately elected and urged the Egyptian leader to work with the opposition.
In Cairo, the U.S. Embassy remained closed because of the demonstrations. Two hundred Marines based in southern Europe were put on alert to deploy to Egypt to protect the American diplomats if crowds attack the embassy, and another 2,000 Marines on three U.S. warships in the Red Sea also were put on alert, CNN reported.
Mr. Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected in June 2012 as the first Islamist head of state of the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Protesters accuse him of consolidating his power, undermining state institutions and failing to tackle economic and security problems that have exacerbated since he came to power. They are demanding that he step down and call early elections.
Mr. Morsi has rejected protesters’ demands for elections, saying he will serve out the remaining three years of his term in office.
On Sunday night, protesters stormed the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo.
Five Cabinet ministers said they had resigned from the Morsi government to join the protests, the state news agency MENA reported.
“The army is welcomed by the people to mediate a solution, not to rule again,” Moushira Khattab, a former Egyptian minister of family and population who joined the protesters in Cairo, said Monday in a Wilson Center conference call.
The military is the “last lifeline” for Egyptians, she said.
Nabil Fahmy, a former Egyptian ambassador to the United States who was also on the Wilson Center call, said the military’s statement “proves again that the only way out is that the army has to step in, not to rule, but to meet the people’s will.”
“The fact that this possibility is now on the table is a testament to the fact that Egypt’s state is on the verge of collapse, and that Morsi’s lack of control has rendered him a president in name only,” Mr. Trager said.
“Events may be moving too quickly for Morsi to reverse the campaign against him, but if he outlines a serious plan for navigating out of the current political crisis, such as a process for revising the constitution and mechanisms for more inclusive governance, he would likely win the military’s acquiescence, because the military does not want to rule the country again, given its sour previous experience,” he said.
Opposition activists, who have organized under the banner of “Tamarod,” or “Rebellion,” want Mr. Morsi to step down by 5 p.m. Tuesday or risk an escalation in the protests.
“[Mr. Morsi‘s] time is over,” Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party in Egypt, said on the Wilson Center call. “This is sort of a correction to the revolution which has to take place.”
However, Mr. Morsi may be helped by disarray in the opposition and a lack of common vision and credibility among political parties.
Many supporters fear the tension will deteriorate into widespread conflict.
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Mr. Obama said his administration’s commitment to Egypt is not toward a personality or a party, but the democratic process.
“What is clear right now is that although Mr. Morsi was elected democratically, there’s more work to be done to create the conditions in which everybody feels that their voices are heard, and that the government is responsive and truly representative,” Mr. Obama said alongside Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in the State House in Dar es Salaam.
“But I do think that if the situation is going to resolve itself for the benefit of Egypt over the long term, then all the parties there have to step back from maximalist positions. Democracies don’t work when everybody says it’s the other person’s fault and I want 100 percent of what I want.”
The largely peaceful protests have been marred over the past week by the deaths of 16 people, including Andrew Pochter, an American from Chevy Chase, Md., and by sexual assaults on women.
Mr. Obama expressed concern about the attacks on women.
“Assaulting women does not qualify as peaceful protests,” he said.