President Morsi’s supporters and opponents both took to the streets in response to the army’s ultimatum
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has rejected the army’s 48-hour ultimatum to resolve the country’s deadly crisis, saying it will only sow confusion.
President Morsi insists he will continue with his own plans for national reconciliation, a presidential statement said early on Tuesday.
The army has warned it will intervene if the government and its opponents fail to heed “the will of the people”.
However, it denies that the ultimatum amounts to a coup.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s state news agency Mena reported early on Tuesday that Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr had submitted his resignation.
If accepted, he would join at least five other ministers who have already reportedly resigned over the political crisis.
On Sunday, millions rallied nationwide, urging the president to step down.
The statement by the minister of defence and army chief, Gen al-Sisi, was worded carefully.
It did not say the president must go. The army, with troops in strategic positions across Cairo, is saying the government and opposition have 48 hours to agree a way forward or it will intervene with its own plan.
The Egyptian military has been both hero and villain for the people involved in the ousting of President Mubarak in 2011.
Heroes, first of all, when they put themselves between protesters and the Mubarak regime’s enforcers. But later they were widely criticised for holding onto power for too long.
The reality is they have never given up their critical role behind the scenes, which includes huge economic power.
No matter which way Egypt goes – and there could be some very rough days ahead – the army will never want its own power diluted.
Large protests continued on Monday with activists storming and ransacking Cairo’s Muslim Brotherhood headquarters – the group from which the president hails.
President Morsi’s opponents accuse him of putting the Brotherhood’s interests ahead of the country’s as a whole.
He became Egypt’s first Islamist president on 30 June 2012, after winning an election considered free and fair following the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
US President Barack Obama – currently on a tour of Africa – called Mr Morsi to encourage him to respond to the protesters’ concerns.
Mr Obama “underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process,” the White House said in a statement”.
Coup in the making?
In an announcement read out on Egyptian TV, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, defence minister and head of the armed forces, described the protests as an “unprecedented” expression of the popular will.
If the people’s demands were not met, he said, the military would have to take responsibility for a plan for the future.
But while he said the army would not get involved in politics or government, his words were seen by many as a coup in the making.
Noisy celebrations erupted in Cairo as protesters interpreted the army’s ultimatum as spelling the end of Mr Morsi’s rule.
Tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters of Tamarod (Rebel) – the opposition movement behind the protests – partied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square late into the night.
The Tamarod movement says more than 22 million people have signed a petition complaining that:
- Security has not been restored since the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak
- The poor “have no place” in society
- The government has had to “beg” the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8bn loan to help shore up the public finances
- There has been “no justice” for people killed by security forces during the uprising and at anti-government protests since then
- “No dignity is left” for Egyptians or their country
- The economy has “collapsed”, with growth poor and inflation high
- Egypt is “following in the footsteps” of the US
Meanwhile senior Brotherhood figure Muhammad al-Biltaji urged pro-Morsi supporters to “call their families in all Egyptian governorates and villages to be prepared to take to the streets and fill squares” to support their president.
“Any coup of any sort will only pass over our dead bodies,” he said to a roar from thousands gathered outside the Rab’ah al-Adawiyah mosque in Cairo’s Nasr district.
There were reports of gun clashes between rival factions in the city of Suez, east of the capital, on Monday night.
The army later issued a second statement on its Facebook page emphasising that it “does not aspire to rule and will not overstep its prescribed role”.
According to Tuesday’s presidential statement, President Morsi was not consulted ahead of the ultimatum announcement. It said that such action would “cause confusion in the complex national environment”.
Given the inability of politicians from all sides to agree until now, the 48-hour ultimatum makes it unlikely Mr Morsi can survive in power, says the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Cairo.
The opposition movement had given Mr Morsi until Tuesday afternoon to step down and call fresh presidential elections, or else face a campaign of civil disobedience.
On Saturday, the group said it had collected more than 22 million signatures – more than a quarter of Egypt’s population – in support.
And on Monday the ministers of tourism, environment, communication, water utilities and legal affairs reportedly resigned in an act of “solidarity with the people’s demand to overthrow the regime”.
But Mr Morsi was defiant in an interview published on Sunday, rejecting calls for early presidential elections.