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July 02, 2013

Morsi Faces Down Egyptian Military As Deadline Looms

by Henry Ridgwell

Huge numbers of Egyptians demonstrated into the night, some backing elected President Mohamed Morsi and others pressing him to resign, even as the military prepares to step in.

President Morsi met Tuesday with the nation's top military official for a second time in two days while supporters massed in Cairo's Nasr City district in a show of solidarity.  Opposition demonstrators thronged the city's Tahrir Square.  

Egypt's military has given Morsi until Wednesday to resolve differences with the country's opposition groups, warning if he fails it will present its own roadmap for Egypt's future.  Parts of that plan leaked to Egypt's state-run news agency and other media indicate military officials are prepared to suspend the constitution, dissolve the legislature and set up an interim administration.

Morsi has said he will not give in to the military's ultimatum.  Members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood have told media they are prepared to stand in front of tanks and martyr themselves to prevent what they see as a coup attempt against an elected leader.

Above Tahrir Square, the military helicopters buzzing Cairo elicit cheers from the crowds below.  The protests are swelling; the opposition emboldened by the military's ultimatum that President Morsi reaches a power-sharing deal.

Among them, protester Mohamed Shaaban. He said Dr. Morsi can suggest anything to the people in the square - but it's the people of the square who are doing the talking.

All eyes are on the army's next move, said Maha Azzam of policy institute Chatham House, who spoke to VOA on the phone from Egypt. "What we're seeing is the upper echelons of the military attempting to dictate the political process in Egypt. They don't want to be at the forefront of politics, but they are ultimately directing the political road map," Azzam explained. "And that is unacceptable in a democracy."

President Morsi has rejected the military's demand. In a statement Tuesday he said he would not let the clock be turned back on civilian rule.

Watch aerial footage of protesters in Tahrir Square:

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The Muslim Brotherhood has called for the president's supporters to take to the streets to "express their refusal of any coup."

"The polarization that is happening in Egypt today is greater than we've ever seen before. And the consequences of unseating a freely elected president are going to be absolutely chaotic in terms of the interests of the Egyptian people as a whole and the future of democracy in the region at large," said Azzam.

The protesters feel this is a second revolution, said Emily Dyer of analyst group The Henry Jackson Society. "Many people feel that the demands that they had in the first revolution in January 2011, which was to put it simply 'bread, freedom and social justice,' have not been met," he noted.


But Dyer said the opposition has failed to offer a cohesive alternative.

"No opposition parties within the National Salvation Front, which is the umbrella opposition movement, have yet put forward a clear alternative policy plan, whether that would be dealing with the economic problems that Egypt is currently facing, the problem that a third of their budget is spent on subsidies," said Dyer.

Britain and Germany echoed U.S. President Obama's concerns over the crisis Tuesday and urged a peaceful resolution. Rupert Colville is spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"It's really important that the government and opposition get together and discuss how they can move forward. Egypt's democracy is obviously very fragile and nobody wants to see it collapse or fall apart in some way," said Colville.

Analysts said Egypt is now entering the unknown - and the military will likely decide the fate of President Morsi in the coming days.