A vendor sells flags and anti-Mursi signs
during a protest
Egypt on the edge after Mursi rebuffs army ultimatum
Cairo, July 2, 2013
President Mohamed Mursi clung to office on Tuesday after rebuffing an army ultimatum to force a resolution to Egypt's political crisis, and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood sought to mass its supporters to defend him.
But the Islamist leader looked increasingly isolated, with ministers resigning, the liberal opposition refusing to talk to him and the armed forces, backed by millions of protesters in the street, giving him until Wednesday to agree to share power.
In a defiant statement, Mursi's office said the president had not been consulted before the armed forces chief-of-staff set a 48-hour deadline for a power-sharing deal and would pursue his own plan for national reconciliation.
Newspapers across the political spectrum saw the military ultimatum as a turning point. "Last 48 hours of Muslim Brotherhood rule," the opposition daily El Watan declared. "Egypt awaits the army," said the state-owned El Akhbar.
Meanwhile, Mursi met the head of the armed forces on Tuesday for the second day, along with the prime minister, the president's office said. It gave no details of the talks.
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil was also present at the meetings with Mursi and Sisi on Monday and Tuesday.
The confrontation has pushed the most populous Arab nation closer to the brink amid a deepening economic crisis two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, raising concern in Washington, Europe and neighbouring Israel.
In another development, Egyptian troops chanted, marched and trained for unarmed combat in the streets of the Red Sea city of Suez at the mouth of the Suez Canal on Tuesday, images from Al Jazeera's Egypt news channel satellite showed.
Security sources in Suez said that forces from the locally based Third Field Army strengthened their presence in the city overnight after the clashes. Armed vehicles were also sent on patrol, the sources told Reuters.
Egyptian officials have said security on the Suez Canal, the vital world waterway, had not been affected by unrest. Cities on the canal have seen major anti-government protests during and since the revolution of 2011.
Military sources said on Tuesday that troops were preparing to deploy on the streets of Cairo and other cities if necessary to prevent clashes between rival political factions.
Protesters remained encamped overnight in Cairo's central Tahrir Square and protest leaders called for another mass rally later in the day, dubbed a "Tuesday of persistence", to try to force the president out.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders branded the military ultimatum a "coup", backed by a threat that the generals will otherwise impose their own road map for the nation.
The Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, called on supporters to stage mass counter-demonstrations to "defend constitutional legitimacy and express their refusal of any coup", raising fears of violence.
One FJP leader urged "free revolutionaries" who supported Mursi to prepare for martyrdom.
HEED THE CALL
Sisi delighted Mursi's opponents on Monday by effectively ordering the president to heed the demands of the street. It took the president's office nine hours to respond with a statement indicating he would go his own way.
"The president of the republic was not consulted about the statement issued by the armed forces," it said. "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, Mursi said he would not let the clock be turned back. Egypt's first freely elected leader, he has been in office for just a year. But many Egyptians are impatient with his economic management and inability to win the trust of non-Islamists.
Mursi spoke to US President Barack Obama by phone on Monday, stressing that Egypt was moving forward with a peaceful democratic transition based on the law and constitution.
The White House said Obama, visiting Tanzania, encouraged him to respond to the protests and "underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process".
Six ministers who are not Brotherhood members have tendered their resignations since Sunday's huge demonstrations, including foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr. The cabinet spokesman also resigned, the state news agency MENA said.
Kandil chaired a session of the rump cabinet without the key ministers of defence and the interior. Justice Minister Ahmed Suleiman denied reports that the government had resigned.
In another blow to the president, Egypt's top appeals court upheld the dismissal of the prosecutor general appointed by Mursi last year - a major bugbear to the liberal opposition.
The court removed public prosecutor Talaat Abdallah, accused of using his position to pursue journalists, artists and critics of the president while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses. It reinstated his predecessor.
Senior Brotherhood politician Mohamed El-Beltagy said the return of the Mubarak-era prosecutor was part of a creeping coup and he expected the High Committee for Elections to meet within hours to consider annulling the 2012 presidential election.
"We are therefore facing a coup against the entire revolution and not just the legitimacy of the elections and the constitution," Beltagy said on the FJP's Facebook page.
"So will the free revolutionaries allow this coup? Or will they stop it even at the price of joining a new martyrs' brigade, following the martyrs of the previous revolution?"
Compounding a sense of an administration disintegrating even as the president hangs on, Mursi's military adviser, US-trained former chief-of-staff General Sami Enan, also resigned.
El-Watan quoted senior General Adel El-Mursi as saying that if there were no agreement among political leaders to hold early presidential elections, the alternative could involve "a return to revolutionary legitimacy".
Under that scenario, the sole functioning chamber of parliament, the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, would be dissolved, the Islamist-tinged constitution enacted under Mursi would be scrapped, and a presidential council would rule by decree until fresh elections could be held under new rules, he was quoted as saying. That is largely the opposition position.
Highlighting the huge scale of anti-Mursi protests, an opposition TV station broadcast aerial footage of vast crowds thronging Cairo's central Tahrir Square, spilling over a wide adjoining area and stretching across the Nile bridges. The army used helicopters to monitor the crowds on Sunday and Monday.
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.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to Sisi, his Egyptian counterpart, on Monday. It is unclear how far the military has informed, or coordinated with, its US sponsors but an Egyptian official said a coup could not succeed without US approval. - Reuters