As President Mohammed Morsi huddled in his guard's quarters during his
last hours as Egypt's first elected leader, he received a call from an Arab
foreign minister with a final offer to end a standoff with the country's top
generals, senior advisers with the president said.
The foreign minister said he was acting as an emissary of Washington, the advisers said, and he asked if Morsi would accept the appointment of a new prime minister and Cabinet, one that would take over all legislative powers and replace his chosen provincial governors.
The aides said they already knew what Morsi's answer would be. He had responded to a similar proposal by pointing at his neck. "This before that," he had told his aides, repeating a vow to die before accepting what he considered a de facto coup and thus a crippling blow to Egyptian democracy.
His top foreign policy adviser, Essam el-Haddad, then left the room to call the U.S. ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, to say that Morsi refused. When he returned, he said he had spoken to Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, and that the military takeover was about to begin, senior aides said.
"Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour," an aide texted an associate, playing on a sarcastic Egyptian expression for the country's Western patron, "Mother America."
The State Department had no comment Saturday on the details of the U.S. role in Morsi's final days.
The abrupt end of Egypt's first Islamist government was the culmination of months of escalating tensions and ultimately futile U.S. efforts to broker a solution that would keep Morsi in his elected office, at least in name if not in power. A new alliance of youthful activists and Mubarak-era elites was driving street protests. A collapsing economy put new pressure on Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, the once-outlawed Islamist group that had finally come to power after the ouster of the former president, Hosni Mubarak. And an alliance between Morsi and the nation's top generals was gradually unraveling.
Senior Brotherhood officials said Morsi's adamant response to the last proposal - a combination of idealism and stubbornness - epitomized his rule. It may also have doomed his presidency.
As long ago as the fall, he had spoken fatalistically of the possibility of his own ouster, his senior advisers said. "Do you think this is the peak?" he asked a visibly anxious aide during his first major political crisis. "No," Morsi said with calm resignation, "The peak will be when you see my blood flowing on the floor."
That was just after what his advisers and Muslim Brotherhood leaders now acknowledge was the defining blunder of his one-year presidency. After Mubarak-appointed judges dissolved the Islamist-led Parliament, Morsi in November declared his own authority above the courts until a constitutional convention could finish its work.
Tens of thousands of protesters denounced his tactic as authoritarian, setting off the first major street fighting between his supporters and opponents. Even some of his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood were angered, the group's leaders and presidential advisers said. They complained that he had not consulted them, but still expected them to defend him in the streets.
"If I were not in my place, I would think he wants to be a dictator," one Muslim
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