President Mohamed Morsi rebuffed an army ultimatum to force a resolution to Egypt’s political crisis, saying on Tuesday that he had not been consulted and would pursue his own plans for national reconciliation.
The Islamist leader described as potentially confusing Monday’s 48-hour deadline set by the head of the armed forces for him to agree on a common platform with liberal rivals who have drawn millions into the streets demanding Morsi’s resignation.
Members of his Muslim Brotherhood have used the word “coup” to describe the military manoeuvre, which carries the threat of the generals imposing their own road map for the nation.
But in a statement issued at nearly 2am, nine hours after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delighted Morsi’s opponents by effectively ordering the president to heed the demands of demonstrators, the president’s office used considerably less direct language to indicate he would try to take little notice.
“The president of the republic was not consulted about the statement issued by the armed forces,” it said. “The presidency sees that some of the statements in it carry meanings that could cause confusion in the complex national environment.”
Official video was released showing Morsi meeting the uniformed Sisi. Their body language seemed awkward, although it was unclear when it was shot.
The statement from Morsi’s office 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.”
Describing civilian rule as a great gain from the revolution of 2011, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, in office for just a year, said he would not let the clock be turned back.
A sense of disintegration in the administration since the protests on Sunday has been heightened by the resignations tendered by several ministers who are not members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. On Tuesday, the state news agency said the foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, had also asked to step down.
Attacks on Brotherhood offices have added to feelings among Islamists that they are under siege.
Some Brotherhood leaders, who swept a series of votes last year, said they would look to put their own supporters on the streets. After the destruction of the Brotherhood’s headquarters in a battle overnight on Monday in which eight people were killed, the possibility of wider violence seems real.
World powers are looking on anxiously, including the United States, which has long funded the Egyptian army as a key component in the security of Washington’s ally Israel.
President Barack Obama has urged Morsi and his rivals to compromise. But Washington has also defended the legitimacy of Morsi’s election. It is unclear how far the Egyptian military has informed, or co-ordinated with, its US sponsors.
The sight of military helicopters streaming national flags over Cairo’s Tahrir Square at sunset, after Sisi had laid down the law, sent huge crowds into a frenzy of cheers.
But on the other side of Egypt’s polarised politics, a Brotherhood spokesman said it might considering forming “self-defence” committees after a series of attacks on its premises.
Among Morsi’s allies are groups with more militant pasts, including al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a sometime associate of al-Qaeda, whose men fought Mubarak’s security forces for years and who have warned they would not tolerate renewed military rule.
An alliance of Islamist groups, including the Brotherhood, issued a cautious joint statement that avoided criticising the army but spoke of it being manipulated by rival parties.
Morsi has said he favours moving to elections for a new parliament that would give the opposition more say – if, as he points out, it has popular support. But the opposition, convinced the Brotherhood is out to entrench its rule forever, does not trust Morsi and wants to wipe clean a messy slate of institutional reforms since 2011 before holding a vote.
How far Sisi is prepare to push Morsi is not clear. Despite a hard line being taken by opposition leaders, some compromise in which Morsi was given time to lead the country, or perhaps to call a referendum on finishing his term, might be possible.
A military source said Sisi was keen not to repeat the experience of the year and a half between Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s election, when a committee of generals formed a government that proved unpopular as the economy struggled.
The army’s preference would appear to be for a more hands-off approach, supervising government but not running it.
For many Egyptians, fixing the economy is key. Unrest since Mubarak fell has hobbled tourism and investment and the state finances are in poor shape, drained by extensive subsidy regimes and struggling to provide regular supplies of fuel. – Reuters