Egypt’s military gives Morsi, opposition parties 48 hours to ‘meet the demands of the people’
By Abigail Hauslohner and Sharaf al-Hourani, Updated: Monday, July 1, 8:11 PM
CAIRO — Egypt’s powerful military issued an ultimatum to the government and its opposition on Monday: resolve the crisis that has pitted hundreds of thousands of President Mohamed Morsi’s opponents against his supporters and brought this country to a political standstill — or the military will announce its own solution.
“The armed forces reiterates its call to meet the demands of the people, and it gives everyone 48 hours as a last chance to carry the burden of the ongoing historic circumstances that the country is going through,” military commander Abdel Fatah al-Sissi said on national television a day after huge crowds of Egyptians took to the streets calling for the president’s ouster.
“If the demands of the people are not met within the given period of time, [the military] will be compelled by its national and historic responsibilities, and in respect for the demands of Egypt’s great people, to announce a roadmap for the future, and procedures that it will supervise involving the participation of all the factions and groups,” Sissi said.
The military’s statement did not make clear whether commanders want Morsi to step down or share power, and it did not specify the kind of role the military would assume if the stalemate continued. Instead, the statement left considerable room for interpretation among Egyptians.
Anti-government activists have called repeatedly on the military in recent days to back them in their struggle against Morsi and his supporters in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Many interpreted Sissi’s remarks on Monday as a victory for their cause.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that Morsi will be able to make a deal with the opposition in 48 hours. I don’t think anyone wants to deal with Morsi anymore,” said Wael Nawara, a longtime political activist, and the co-founder of the liberal Dustour party.
“So that effectively means that the military will basically appoint some kind of transition government,” he said.
The military had repeatedly signaled that it does not want to return to the helm of politics, which it commanded — turbulently — in the first year and a half after the ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011. But Sissi also said earlier this month that the army would step in if Egypt’s political crisis worsened.
Before the military’s announcement on Monday, four of Morsi’s cabinet ministers submitted their resignations, in a show of solidarity with the anti-government protesters, the state news wire reported.
In the early morning, protesters stormed and ransacked the Muslim Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters, looting its offices, and setting fire to sections of the eight-story building as police officers looked on. Several Muslim Brotherhood offices in other cities also were attacked.
President Obama, speaking to reporters during a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, urged Morsi to talk with opposition leaders and find a solution to the unrest.
”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,” Obama said. “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 all the other person’s fault and I want 100 percent of what I want.”
Obama also expressed concern about reports that some women were assaulted in Tahrir Square during Sunday’s anti-government demonstrations. “Everybody has to show restraint,” Obama said. “Assaulting women does not qualify as peaceful protests.”
Sunday’s gatherings were the largest showing of opposition to Morsi since the Islamist leader took office one year ago. At least 16 people nationwide have been killed in violence related to the protests since Sunday, said Saad Zaghloul, assistant to Egypt’s minister of health.
Protest leaders are calling for a new wave of demonstrations on Tuesday and gave Morsi until 5 p.m. that day to step down from office — a move that analysts describe as unlikely and Morsi supporters say is out of the question.
“We are not making light of the protests or demands,” presidential spokesman Omar Amer said in a news conference late Sunday. But, “this is not how things are solved. Things are solved through dialogue and by coming to agreements.”
In the coastal city of Alexandria on Monday, uniformed police officers joined anti-Morsi protesters in a funeral procession for one of their own, Col. Mohamed Hani, who was shot in the Sinai Peninsula by unidentified attackers over the weekend. Egypt’s private ON TV channel aired video footage of the police officers hoisted onto the shoulders of the anti-Morsi demonstrators, leading protest chants.
Anti-Morsi protesters also blocked state employees from entering the offices of at least three provincial capitals in southern Egypt, the state news wire reported.
On Sunday, as the anti-Morsi masses packed the area around Tahrir Square and the presidential palace, a smaller number of Morsi supporters filled another Cairo thoroughfare. The standoff also underscored the lingering question of how this nation of 85 million can reconcile its devastating political divide, more than two years after Mubarak’s fall.
Opposition protesters — a loose alliance of liberal and secular activists, old-regime loyalists and a growing number of the nation’s disenchanted poor — say Morsi has lost his legitimacy during a year of political turmoil as the country’s economy has faltered and security in the streets has crumbled. They want Morsi to resign, the Islamist-dominated elected upper house of parliament dissolved and the Islamist-drafted constitution shelved in favor of a new round of elections and a new constitution.
“I waited for Morsi to give me a job, and he didn’t. So I came here to take some things from them to sell,” said Ali Agami, an unemployed 32-year-old, as he his cousin hauled an air conditioner and a desk out of the Brotherhood’s ransacked headquarters on Monday. Agami said he had voted for Morsi, but added that the economic turmoil during Morsi’s first year in office had left him feeling deeply embittered.
The president’s supporters, most of them from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, accuse the opposition of challenging the democratic process and engaging in a conspiracy to oust an elected ruler.
“We’re supporting the legitimacy of an elected president,” said Azmi Sabah, a journalist at Sunday’s pro-Morsi rally.
But as each side sought to claim the nation’s majority, and thus the legitimacy, it was also apparent that the president’s supporters were vastly outnumbered. And that, political analysts said, left a resolution to Egypt’s crisis hanging in uncertainty.
“There is a good scenario, and there is a bad scenario,” said Yasser El-Shimy, an Egypt analyst for the International Crisis Group. “I think the good scenario is for the president to get the hint that his approach has failed to build a consensus so far and it needs a serious readjustment.” Ideally, the opposition would accept some sort of compromise then and recognize Morsi’s legitimacy, he said.
If the protests maintain their momentum and numbers, it may only make opposition leaders less willing to compromise, El-Shimy said. “And I think that will just get the country bogged down in a protracted political crisis for weeks to come.”
Some in the police have publicly refused to protect Morsi and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood. In a news conference last month, a spokesman for the nation’s police association said the police would not provide protection “for any party or political headquarters,” in a clear message to the Brotherhood.
“I reject Morsi. I want him to leave,” said Hussein Ahmed Ibrahim, a police major, who stood on a corner with other officers near the palace on Sunday, waving a red card that read “Leave” toward the supportive passersby who honked their car horns.
“I’ll protect the protesters, but I won’t protect the palace,” he said. “We’re all like this,” he added of the police. “And the army has the same position.”
Lara El Gibaly in Cairo contributed to this report.