A few hours ago, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian armed forces, gave President Mohammed Morsi an ultimatum on national television, to wit: If Morsi does not resolve the massive popular protests within two days, the army will step in.
Things are going from bad to worse for Morsi. Earlier today, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Cairo HQ was burned, stormed and looted. Also today, five of Morsi’s ministers handed in their resignations (tourism, communication and IT, legal and parliamentary affairs, water, and the environment). People are dying in numbers that in Gaza would be called massacres (sixteen were killed in Cairo today, all of them young; the youngest was 14).
Morsi’s options, in the wake of the army’s ultimatum, are: 1) resign, 2) call early elections, 3) rule jointly with the opposition, or 4) fight back. The last is by no means out of the question.
It is now evening. Al Jazeera reports that helicopters have buzzed Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 revolution, trailing Egyptian flags while loudspeakers blare, “the army and the people are one hand.” As stirring as that sentiment is to the throngs of protesters below, the army is not, as Haaretz reminds us, eager to take a political role. It will not stand by indefinitely, however, if it perceives that national security is at stake.
The New York Times notes that “the generals took pains [in their statement] to emphasize their reluctance to take over and the inclusion of civilians in any next steps.” The relevant passage in the army’s statement read, “The armed forces will not be party to the circle of politics or ruling, and the military refuses to deviate from its assigned role in the original democratic vision that flows from the will of the people.”
Al Jazeera English excerpted the army’s statement as follows:
“The army gives an ultimatum of 48 hours as a last ditch chance, as the homeland and the nation cannot tolerate any party failing to live up to its responsibilities.” …
“The national security of the state is in severe danger”, it said, adding that if there was no resolution, “We are compelled by our national responsibility… to issue a road map for the future and certain measures… for the participation of all [political] factions.”
It described the mass protests on Sunday that brought out millions of Egyptians demanding President Morsi’s resignation as “glorious”.
It said protesters expressed their opinion “in peaceful and civilised manner”, and that “it is necessary that the people get a reply … to their calls”.
(Haaretz translates the critical sentence as follows: “If the demands of the people are not realized within the defined period, it will be incumbent upon (the armed forces) … to announce a road map for the future.”)
“For the army to give the president 48 hours warning, the army are saying who is the boss,” said Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s chief political analyst. “Morsi is no longer the same president as this morning in the eyes of those on the streets.” Bishara is in no doubt that the army will indeed intervene if Morsi does not satisfy the protesters by the deadline. “That could be taking over the streets or taking over the government,” he said.
It remains unclear just what, other than Morsi’s resignation, would constitute “resolving” the protests. The Times explains the people’s grievances thus:
Demonstrators said they were angry about the lack of public security, the desperate state of the Egyptian economy and an increase in sectarian tensions. But the common denominator across the country was the conviction that Mr. Morsi had failed to transcend his roots in the Brotherhood, an insular Islamist group officially outlawed under Mr. Mubarak that is now considered Egypt’s most formidable political force.
The scale of the protests across the country delivered a sharp rebuke to the group’s claim that its victories in Egypt’s newly open parliamentary and presidential elections gave it a mandate to speak for most Egyptians.
“Enough is enough,” said Alaa al-Aswany, a prominent Egyptian writer who was among the many at the protests who had supported the president just a year ago. “It has been decided for Mr. Morsi. Now, we are waiting for him to understand.”
Shadi Hamid, a researcher at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar who studies the Muslim Brotherhood closely, said: “The Brotherhood underestimated its opposition.” He added, “This is going to be a real moment of truth for the Brotherhood.”