CAIRO • Egypt’s powerful military warned on Monday it will intervene if the Islamist president doesn’t "meet the people’s demands," giving him and his opponents two days to reach an agreement in what it called a last chance. Hundreds of thousands of protesters massed for a second day calling on Mohammed Morsi to step down.
Military helicopters, some dangling Egyptian flags, swooped over Cairo’s Tahrir Square where many broke into cheers with the army’s announcement, read on state television. The statement seemed to fuel the flow of crowds into city squares around the country where protesters chanted and sang.
"Come out, el-Sissi. The people want to topple the regime," protesters in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla el-Kubra chanted, urging military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to intervene.
The military’s statement puts enormous pressure on Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. So far, the president has vowed he will remain in his position, but the opposition and crowds in the street — who numbered in the millions nationwide on Sunday — have made clear they will accept nothing less than his departure and a transition to early presidential elections.
That makes action by the generals when the deadline runs out nearly inevitable, since a deal seems unlikely. The statement did not define the "people’s demands" that must be met. But it strongly suggested that Sunday’s gigantic rallies expressed the desire of Egyptians, raising the likelihood it would insist on Morsi’s departure.
An army move against Morsi, however, risks a backlash from his Islamist supporters, who include hard-line former militants.
Morsi met Monday with el-Sissi and Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, according to the president’s Facebook page, without giving further details.
Already, the military’s presence in Cairo has increased at sensitive spots the past two days. Troops on Monday manned checkpoints on roads leading to a pro-Morsi rally of Islamists near his palace. They checked cars for weapons, after repeated reports some Islamists were arming themselves.
Morsi’s backers have been infuriated by what they call an opposition move to forcibly overthrow Egypt’s first president chosen in a democratic election. Some see the campaign as aimed at defeating the "Islamist project."
In the evening, the pro-president rally outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque not far from the Ittihadiya palace also swelled, though it was eclipsed by the opposition rallies. Its participants blew whistles and waved banners with Morsi’s picture on it.
"The military has sacrificed legitimacy. There will be a civil war," Manal Shouib, a 47-year-old physiotherapist at the pro-president rally outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque not far from Ittihadiya.
Mohammed Saeed, another Morsi supporter, vowed that he would fight the military if the president is ousted.
"If he (el-Sissi) wants to get rid of us, we will not run. We will face bullets with our bodies. Let the general commander of the armed forces respect his president."
The sense of predicament among Morsi’s supporters was apparent as they concluded the sunset prayers with a supplication.
"May God answer the prayers of these extended hands to You. God, accept us as martyrs for Your cause and make Your slave Mohammed Morsi victorious," said the imam who led the prayers. Muslims routinely refer to themselves as slaves of God.
In a sign of Morsi’s growing isolation, five Cabinet ministers said on Monday they have resigned their posts to join the protest movement, the state news agency said. The five are the ministers of communications, legal affairs, environment, tourism and water utilities, MENA reported.
The governor of the strategic province of Ismailia on the Suez Canal, Hassan el-Rifaai, also quit Monday, saying he made the decision in the interest of the nation.
Monday’s statement was the military’s second ultimatum. Earlier, el-Sissi gave the two sides a week to reach an agreement. That ultimatum expired on Sunday, with Morsi repeating his longstanding offer for dialogue, which the opposition rejected.
On Monday, the military praised the anti-Morsi protests as "glorious," saying the participants expressed their opinion "in peaceful and civilized manner," and that "it is necessary that the people get a reply ... to their calls."
The military underlined it will "not be a party in politics or rule." But it said it has a responsibility to act because Egypt’s national security is facing a "grave danger," according to the statement.
It said it repeats its call "for the people’s demands to be met," giving all sides 48 hours "as a last chance to shoulder the burden of the historic moment."Next Page >
Text of Egyptian military ultimatum
The text of the Egyptian military statement issued Monday warning the armed forces will intervene if the demands of the people aren’t met in 48 hours.
“Egypt and the whole world witnessed yesterday demonstrations by the great people of Egypt expressing their opinion in an unprecedented, peaceful and civilized way.
Everyone saw the movement of the Egyptian people and heard their voices with the greatest respect and concern. It is necessary that the people receive a reply to their movement and the call from every party with any responsibility in the dangerous circumstances surrounding the nation.
As a main party in the considerations of the future and based on their patriotic and historic responsibilities to protect security and stability, the Armed Forces state the following:
— The Armed Forces will not be a party in the circles of politics or governance and are not willing to step out of the role defined for them by the basic ideals of democracy based on the will of the people.
— The national security of the state is exposed to extreme danger by the developments the nation is witnessing, and this places a responsibility on us, each according to his position, to act as is proper to avert these dangers. The armed forces sensed early on the dangers of the current situation and the demands the great people have at this time. Therefore, it previously set a deadline of a week for all political forces in the country to come to a consensus and get out of this crisis. However, the week has passed without any sign of an initiative. This is what led to the people coming out with determination and resolve, in their full freedom, in this glorious way, which inspired surprise, respect and attention at the domestic, regional and international levels.
— Wasting more time will only bring more division and conflict, which we have warned about and continue to warn about. The noble people have suffered and have found no one to treat them with kindness or sympathize with them. That puts a moral and psychological burden on the armed forces, which find it obligatory that everyone drop everything and embrace these proud people, which have shown they are ready to do the impossible if only they feels there is loyalty and dedication to them.
— The Armed Forces repeat their call for the people’s demands to be met and give everyone 48 hours as a last chance to shoulder the burden of the historic moment that is happening in the nation, which will not forgive or tolerate any party that is lax in shouldering its responsibility.
— The Armed Forces put everyone on notice that if the demands of the people are not realized in the given time period, it will be obliged by its patriotic and historic responsibilities and by its respect for the demands of the great Egyptian people to announce a road map for the future and the steps for overseeing its implementation, with participation of all patriotic and sincere parties and movements — including the youth, who set off the glorious revolution and continue to do so — without excluding anyone.
A salute of appreciation and pride to the sincere and loyal men of the Armed Forces, who have always borne and will continue to bear their patriotic responsibilities toward the great people of Egypt with determination, decisiveness and pride.
God save Egypt and its proud, great people.”
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