News Column

Egyptian Army Issues Ultimatum

July 1, 2013

Nehal El-Sherif, dpa

C The military would announce measures to end a political stalemate within 48 hours, Egypt's defence minister said Monday after protests and clashes between government supporters and opponents turned bloody.

Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi's statement came as thousands of people protested in Cairo's Tahrir Square and in front of the presidential palace in eastern Cairo, remaining there after Sunday's demonstrations, in which hundreds of thousands demanded the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

Many protesters complained of increasing prices, fuel shortages, electricity cuts and a lack of security since Morsi took power a year ago.

It also came a week after al-Sissi set a week's deadline for a consensus between Morsi's supporters and opponents.

"Yet this week passed without any gesture or action, leading people to take to the streets with insistence and freedom," al-Sissi said.

It was not clear from his statement how far the military was willing to go to reassert order in the country, which has been in a regular state of turmoil since the 2011 ouster of former president Hosny Mubarak.

Many of those who have taken to the streets have been calling on the army to take over again. Others demanded early presidential elections after the hoped-for ouster of Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled the country for a year and half after the uprising against Mubarak.

"The armed forces reiterates its call to meet the demands of the people and gives everyone 48 hours as a last chance to bear the burden of such historical circumstances that the country is going through," al-Sissi said.

"If the people's demands are not met within the specified deadline, the armed forces - based on its national and historical responsibility - will announce a plan for the future and a series of measures that it will supervise with the participation of all factions," he said.

Thousands of demonstrators celebrated after the statement. They set off fireworks, cheered and sang the national anthem as at least five army helicopters flew across Cairo while carrying the Egyptian flag.

"This is a great statement," Sayed, a 40-year-old businessman, said in Tahrir Square. "Morsi will be gone in two days."

But an analyst said its message was not so cut and dried.

"The statement is not clear," said Omar Ashour, director of Middle East Studies at the University of Exeter. "I guess that is part of the issue. They [the army] had control for more than a year, and they could not impose a vision."

"It is not clear what they have to offer except a crackdown," he said. "Presumably, that would be on spoilers, on those resisting a compromise, but it is not clear that the army has the capacity or the will to do that."

Ashour said he believes the Islamists behind Morsi would likely comply and try to reach a compromise.

"The question is: Are there any serious political parties willing to compromise?" he said. "Those who believe that they are winning in terms of the streets may not be. Past experience has shown us that many of these politicians are extremely short-sighted and even megalomaniac."

Clashes since Sunday left about 20 people dead, medical sources said. Twelve died when opposition protesters attacked the Cairo headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

Several brotherhood offices have been torched around the country since Wednesday as tensions have risen between Morsi's supporters and opponents in the lead-up to Sunday's rallies, which marked his first anniversary in office.

Security forces Monday arrested several guards of Khairat al-Shater, the deputy leader of the brotherhood, after an exchange of fire near his house, a security source said.

Al-Shater's son, Saad, told Al Arabiya broadcaster that police forces opened fire on their house in Cairo and arrested the driver.

Al-Shater, seen as the most influential man in the brotherhood, was not at home at the time, his son said.

Five ministers have resigned in protest at the government's reaction to the protests. However, Prime Minister Hesham Qandil had not accepted the resignations yet, sources in the cabinet said.

Members of the opposition Tamarod campaign, which called for Sunday's protests, welcomed al-Sissi's statement as support for the protesters but also vowed to continue their sit-in in various squares across the country.

They gave Morsi an ultimatum - to resign by Tuesday - and called for more civil disobedience if he stays.

The opposition has charged that Morsi is concerned only with tightening his Muslim Brotherhood's grip on power and has failed to address the country's economic and social problems.

Morsi's allies have said the opposition of seeking to topple him to seize power. His supporters, who staged a sit-in around a mosque in eastern Cairo, have vowed he would complete his four-year term.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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