CAIRO: Egypt’s armed forces handed President Mohamed Mursi a virtual ultimatum to share power on Monday, giving feuding politicians 48 hours to compromise or have the army impose its own roadmap for the country.
A dramatic military statement broadcast on state television declared the nation was in danger after millions of people took to the streets on Sunday to demand that Mursi quit and the headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were ransacked.
Mursi’s backers were furious at the military statement: “The age of military coups is over,” said Yasser Hamza of the Brotherhood parliamentary wing.
But it provoked delight among liberal leaders and crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, who cheered when a flight of military helicopters swooped overhead trailing national flags.
Silhouetted against the sunset, it was a powerful illustration of the military’s desire to be seen in tune with the people.
“If the demands of the people are not realised within the defined period, it will be incumbent upon (the armed forces) … to announce a roadmap for the future,” Chief-of-Staff General Abdel Fattah al Sisi said in the statement.
In Dares Salam, US President Barack Obama called on all parties in Egypt to show restraint in mass protests against President Mursi, and specifically warned against attacks on women. “Everybody has to show restraint,” Obama said at a press conference.
Mursi’s office later said the president met Sisi and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, releasing a picture of them seated together smiling, but did not respond to the military statement.
Anti-Mursi demonstrators outside the presidential palace cheered the army statement, and the main opposition National Salvation Front, which has demanded a national unity government for months, applauded the military’s move. The army is held in high regard, especially after it helped topple Mubarak.
It was the second time in just over a week that the armed forces had issued a formal warning to the politicians, piling pressure on Mursi to concede power-sharing with the liberal, secular and left-wing opposition.
The second biggest religious grouping a in parliament, the Nour Party, said it feared the return of army rule “in a big way”.
Brotherhood leader’s guards rounded up Security sources said security forces arrested 15 bodyguards of Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater after an exchange of gunfire with them outside his home. The guards are suspected of illegal possession of firearms used in the shooting at the movement’s headquarters, the sources said.
The Brotherhood’s political wing denied the arrests, saying only Khater’s driver had been ‘kidnapped’.
The Brotherhood’s official spokesman told Reuters that the attack had crossed a red line of violence and among possible responses might be to revive “self-defence committees” former during the 2011 uprising.
“The people will not sit silent,” Gehad El-Haddad said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2013.