Egypt: Army sets 5pm deadline for Morsi to go

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Picture: Reuters
Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Picture: Reuters
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EGYPT’S army plans to push president Mohamed Morsi aside and suspend the constitution if he fails to strike a power-sharing deal by 5pm today, military sources have said.

Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, was still clinging to power yesterday with tens of thousands of people on the streets from rival factions. There were some clashes between his Islamist supporters and those who want him forced out after only a year in office.

Military sources said that once a two-day deadline set on Monday by the head of the armed forces – General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – expired at 5pm, the military intended to install an interim council, composed mainly of civilians and experienced technocrats, to run the country until an amended constitution was drafted within months.

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 Mr Morsi if he refused to go quietly. He rebuffed the ultimatum yesterday and said he would go on working. However, he was looking increasingly isolated as ministers and officials who are not members of his Muslim Brotherhood resigned.

The confrontation has pushed Egypt to the brink of chaos amid a deepening economic crisis two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, raising concern in the United States, Europe and neighbouring Israel.

The liberal opposition coalition has ruled out talks with Mr Morsi, saying they are simply waiting for the deadline to pass.

After that, their negotiator, former United Nations’ nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, would deal directly with the military. The military sources said the armed forces planned to open talks with the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) and other political, religious and youth organisations.

The emerging military roadmap could be amended as a result of those talks, they said.

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 Mubarak’s fall. Then, the armed forces’ council held effective power but was criticised by secular politicians for failing to enact vital reforms, and for siding with the Muslim Brotherhood.

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 yesterday said Mr Morsi was meeting General al-Sisi and prime minister Hisham Kandil for the second straight day. Military sources said troops were preparing to go onto the streets of Cairo and other cities to prevent clashes.

Fighting between Mr Morsi supporters and opponents broke out yesterday afternoon in the Cairo suburb of Giza, in Alexandria and Qalyubia, north of Cairo, security sources said.

Senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders branded the military ultimatum a “coup”.

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 Mr Morsi to prepare for martyrdom.

At least six government ministers who are not Brotherhood members have tendered their resignations since Sunday’s demonstrations, including foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.

In another blow to the president, Egypt’s top appeals court yesterday upheld the dismissal of the prosecutor general appointed by Mr Morsi last year and replaced him with his Mubarak-era predecessor.

Syria threat backfired on Morsi

Army concern about the way president Mohamed Morsi was governing Egypt reached tipping point when the head of state attended a rally packed with hardline fellow Islamists calling for holy war in Syria, military sources said.

At the 15 June rally, Sunni clerics used the word “infidels” to denounce the Shiites fighting to protect Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the secularists who oppose Mr Morsi at home. Mr Morsi called for foreign intervention in Syria against Mr Assad, leading to a veiled rebuke from the army, which issued a statement next day stressing that its only role was guarding Egypt’s borders.

“The armed forces were very alarmed by the Syrian conference,” said one officer Mr Morsi as president is commander of the armed forces, but the military remains a rival to his authority. It claims its main aim is to avoid bloodshed, but officers have been hard hit by the economic crisis which has seen the currency lose a tenth of its value.