Egyptian Military Ready to Remove President Morsi and Assume Power (UPDATE)

Egyptian soldier carried on the shoulders of protester

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has issued a statement, in response to yesterday’s ultimatum from the military that it was ready to remove Morsi and assume Power (see below for more on the ultimatum).

The statement from Morsi – reported in the Jerusalem Post – said “The president of the republic was not consulted about the statement issued by the armed forces. The presidency sees that some of the statements in it carry meanings that could cause confusion in the complex national environment.” Making it clear that neither the President, nor his Muslim Brotherhood government, intended to bow to the will of the protesters and step down, continued “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.”

Other developments Monday included the resignation of Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr and the burning of the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters by anti-government protesters. In addition, Morsi spoke by telephone with US President Barack Obama. It has been reported that President Obama, although clearly supportive of the current Egyptian leader, urged compromise, in an effort to head off the escalating violence.

The rest of the original report, published yesterday, continues below:

According to an Associated Press (AP) report, the Egyptian military has declared that it is ready to remove President Muhammed Morsi from power, unless he reaches an agreement with protesters and meets the demands of the Egyptian people.

The statement Monday by the military is a clear ultimatum; giving the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President 48 hours to bring the unrest to an end.

Millions of Egyptians have taken to the streets, calling for Morsi to step down. The sheer size of the popular revolt appears to have taken both the government and the military by surprise. Having effectively ruled Egypt for many years, the military handed over power to the mainly Islamist government, following the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. With Monday’s statement, the military has made it clear that it is aligned with the protesters, describing the ongoing demonstrations as “glorious”. The protesters have packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as well as the streets around the presidential palace and city centers across the country. Reports from Egypt have revealed that, in some locations, uniformed Egyptian police have joined the anti-government protesters.

The army has already set up checkpoints on roads leading to rally sites. Following reports that Islamist, pro-government counter-demonstrators were arming themselves, the army began stopping and searching vehicles. Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been vocal in their anger at both the anti-government protesters and, now, at a military that has always fiercely protected its secularist tradition; for years, preventing Islamists from attending its military academies.

The AP report quotes 47-year-old Morsi supporter Manal Shouib as saying “The military has sacrificed legitimacy. There will be a civil war.” Shouib was attending a pro-government rally outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque not far from the presidential palace. Such demonstrations, however, are being dwarfed by the massive crowds demanding Morsi’s resignation or ouster and early presidential elections.

The statement by the military asserted that the people had expressed their wishes “in peaceful and civilized manner,” and called on the government to acknowledge their demands. Making it clear that it did not plan to permanently assume power, the military announced, nevertheless, that it has a responsibility to act. The statement went on to give all sides 48 hours “as a last chance to shoulder the burden of the historic moment.” Following this, the statement continued, the military would have no choice but 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 … excluding no one.”

The anti-government rallies have been organized, largely, by a group calling itself Tamarod. This group issued its own ultimatum Monday, threatening to escalate the demonstrations and civil disobedience unless President Morsi steps down by 5pm, local time, on Tuesday.

Given that Morsi has made it clear that he has no intention of stepping down, and that the protesters will accept nothing less than an end to his rule, pending new elections, it seems likely that the powerful military will take control of the country when their pronounced deadline expires – unless Morsi announces an agreement to negotiate with his opponents. Should the military actually remove President Morsi and assume power, civil war would become a strong possibility. Ironically, Morsi had previously given his blessing for Egyptian Islamists to travel to Syria, to aid the Syrian opposition in its struggle to overthrow President Bashar-al-Assad. Morsi, no doubt, will be wishing that he had not been so hasty.

Graham J Noble

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