CAIRO - Egypt's army has plans to push President Mohamed Morsi
aside and suspend the constitution if he fails to strike a power-sharing deal
with his opponents within 24 hours, military sources told Reuters on
Egypt's first freely elected leader was still clinging to power
with tens of thousands of people on the streets from rival factions. There were
some clashes between Morsi's Islamist supporters and those who want him forced
out after only a year in office.
Military sources told Reuters that once
a two-day deadline set by the head of the armed forces expires at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the military intended to install an interim council, composed
mainly of civilians from different political groups and experienced technocrats,
to run the country until an amended constitution was drafted within
That would be followed by a new presidential election, but
parliamentary polls would be delayed until strict conditions for selecting
candidates were in force, they said.
They would not say how the military
intended to deal with Morsi if he refused to go quietly. He rebuffed the
ultimatum on Tuesday and said he would go on working. But he was looking
increasingly isolated as ministers and officials who are not members of his
Muslim Brotherhood resigned.
The confrontation has pushed the most
populous Arab nation closer to the brink of chaos amid a deepening economic
crisis two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, raising concern in
Washington, Europe and neighboring Israel.
The liberal opposition
coalition has ruled out even starting negotiations with Mursi, saying they are
simply waiting for the expiry of the deadline, which was set on Monday in
dramatic fashion by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military
After that, their negotiator, former UN nuclear agency
chief Mohamed ElBaradei, would deal directly with the military.
military sources said the armed forces planned to open talks with the opposition
National Salvation Front and other political, religious and youth organizations
after the deadline.
The emerging military roadmap could be amended as a
result of those consultations, they said. Among figures being considered as an
interim head of state was the new president of the constitutional court, Adli
The army blueprint closely resembles proposals for a democratic
transition put forward by the NSF. The military sources said the new transition
arrangements would be entirely different from the military rule that followed
Then, the armed forces' council held effective power but
was widely criticised by liberal and left-wing politicians for failing to enact
vital economic and political reforms, and siding with the Muslim
In a defiant 2 a.m. statement, Mursi's office
said the president had not been consulted before the armed forces chief-of-staff
set a 48-hour deadline for a power-sharing deal and would pursue his own plan
for national reconciliation.
Newspapers across the political spectrum saw
the military ultimatum as a turning point.
"Last 48 hours of Muslim
Brotherhood rule," the opposition daily El Watan declared. "Egypt awaits the
army," said the state-owned El Akhbar.
The president's office said Mursi
was meeting Sisi and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil for the second straight
Military sources said troops were preparing to deploy on the streets
of Cairo and other cities to prevent clashes.
Fighting between Mursi
supporters and opponents broke out on Tuesday afternoon in the Cairo suburb of
Giza, in Alexandria and in the town of Qalyubia, north of Cairo, security
sources said. In Alexandria, soldiers intervened to separate rival
Protesters remained encamped overnight in Cairo's central
Tahrir Square and protest leaders called for another mass rally later in the
day, dubbed a "Tuesday of persistence", to try to force the president
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders branded the military ultimatum a
"coup", backed by a threat that the generals will otherwise impose their own
road map for the nation.
The Brotherhood's political wing called on
supporters to stage mass counter-demonstrations to "defend constitutional
legitimacy and express their refusal of any coup", raising fears of violence.
One of its leaders urged "free revolutionaries" who supported Morsi to prepare
After millions protested on Sunday, Sisi delighted Morsi's
opponents by effectively ordering the president to heed the demands of the
street. It took the president's office nine hours to respond with a statement
indicating he would go his own way.
"The president of the republic was
not consulted about the statement issued by the armed forces," it said. "The
presidency confirms that it is going forward on its previously plotted path to
promote comprehensive national reconciliation ... regardless of any statements
that deepen divisions between citizens." Describing civilian rule as a great
gain from the revolution of 2011, Morsi said he would not let the clock be
He spoke to U.S. President Barack Obama by phone on Monday,
stressing that Egypt was moving forward with a democratic transition. The White
House said Obama encouraged him to respond to the protests and "underscored that
the current crisis can only be resolved through a political
At least six ministers who are not Brotherhood
members have tendered their resignations since Sunday's huge demonstrations,
including the foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr. The cabinet spokesman also
resigned, the state news agency MENA said.
Kandil chaired a session of
the rump cabinet without the key ministers of defence and the interior. Justice
Minister Ahmed Suleiman denied reports that the government had
In another blow to the president, Egypt's top appeals court
upheld the dismissal of the prosecutor general appointed by Morsi last year - a
major bugbear to the liberal opposition - and replaced him with his Mubarak-era
Senior Brotherhood politician Mohamed El-Beltagy said that
move was part of a creeping coup. He said he expected the High Committee for
Elections to meet within hours to consider annulling the 2012 presidential
Compounding a sense of an administration disintegrating even as
the president hangs on, Morsi's military adviser, U.S.-trained former
chief-of-staff General Sami Enan, also resigned.
World powers are looking
on anxiously, including the United States, which has long funded the Egyptian
army as a key component in the security of Washington's ally
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of
Staff, spoke to his Egyptian counterpart on Monday. It is unclear how far the
military has informed, or coordinated with, its US sponsors but an Egyptian
official said a coup could not succeed without US approval.
Nations Human Rights office called on Mursi to listen to the demands of the
people and engage in a "serious national dialogue" but also said: "Nothing
should be done that would undermine democratic processes." A senior European
diplomat said that if the army were to go further and remove the elected
president, the international community would have no alternative but to condemn
Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst at the International Crisis Group,
said the army ultimatum had hardened positions on either side, making it very
difficult to find a constitutional way out of the crisis: "Things could
deteriorate very rapidly from there, either through confrontations on the
street, or international sanctions," he said.
"Morsi is calling their
bluff, saying to them, 'if you are going to do this, you will have to do it over
my dead body'." Among Morsi's allies are groups with militant pasts, including
al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a sometime associate of al-Qaida, whose men fought
Mubarak's security forces for years and who have warned they would not tolerate
renewed military rule.
For many Egyptians, fixing the economy is key.
Unrest since Mubarak fell has decimated tourism and investment and state
finances are in poor shape, drained by extensive subsidies for food and fuel and
struggling to provide regular supplies.
The Cairo bourse, reopening after
a holiday, shot up nearly 5 percent after the army's move.