CAIRO — Egypt’s powerful military issued an ultimatum to the government of President Mohamed Morsi on Monday: resolve the crisis that has pitted hundreds of thousands of Morsi’s opponents against his supporters and ground this county to a political standstill—or the military will intervene.
Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, commander of Egypt’s armed forces, said the military may soon take action to enforce the demands of the masses of Egyptians who took to the streets on Sunday calling for the president’s ouster.
“The armed forces reiterates its call to meet the demands of the people, and it gives everyone 48 hours as a last chance to carry the burden of the ongoing historic circumstances that the country is going through,” Sissi said in a statement broadcast on national television.
“If the demands of the people are not met within the given period of time, [the military] will be compelled by its national and historic responsibilities, and in respect for the demands of Egypt’s great people, to announce a roadmap for the future, and procedures that it will supervise involving the participation of all the factions and groups.”
Anti-government activists have called repeatedly on the military in recent days to back them in their struggle against Morsi and his supporters in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Many interpreted Sissi’s remarks on Monday as a victory for their cause.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that Morsi will be able to make a deal with the opposition in 48 hours. I don’t think anyone wants to deal with Morsi anymore,” said Wael Nawara, a longtime political activist, and the co-founder of the liberal Dustour party.
“So that effectively means that the military will basically appoint some kind of transition government,” he said.
The military had repeatedly signaled that it does not want to return to the helm of politics, which it commanded — turbulently — in the first year and a half after the ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011. But Sissi also said earlier this month that the army would step in if Egypt’s political crisis worsened.
Before the military’s announcement on Monday, four of Morsi’s cabinet ministers submitted their resignations, in a show of solidarity with the anti-government protesters, the state news wire reported.
In the early morning, protesters stormed and ransacked the Muslim Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters, looting its offices, and setting fire to sections of the eight-story building as police officers looked on. Several Muslim Brotherhood offices in other cities also were attacked.
Sunday’s protests were the largest showing of opposition to Morsi since the Islamist leader took office one year ago. At least 16 people nationwide have been killed in violence related to the protests since Sunday, said Saad Zaghloul, assistant to Egypt’s minister of health.
Protest leaders are calling for a new wave of demonstrations on Tuesday and gave Morsi until 5 p.m. that day to step down from office — a move that analysts describe as unlikely and Morsi supporters say is out of the question.