The head of Egypt’s Armed Forces issued on Monday a 48-hour ultimatum to all Egyptian political forces to reach a resolution or face a military “road map for the future” that “will not exclude anyone.”
General AbdelFattah al-Sissi called mass protests on Sunday, which called for Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to resign, an “unprecedented” expression of the popular will.
The statement came after mass nationwide protests demanding the ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi.
Opposition leader Hamdeen Sabbahi had called on Sunday for military intervention if Mursi refused to step down.
“The armed forces must act, because they have always been on the side of the people who have expressed their will,” said Sabbahi, a candidate in the previous presidential elections.
The Opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) urged the military to declare President Mursi “illegitimate” and force him to step down “immediately.”
Gen. Sami Annan, meanwhile, resigned from the president’s advisory council, according to Egyptian media reports. Annan was the army chief of staff before he was removed from his post by President Mursi.
Gen. Sissi said the ultimatum was a “last chance” and described the mass protests on Sunday that brought out millions of Egyptians demanding Mursi’s ouster as “glorious.”
He added that protesters expressed their opinion “in a peaceful and civilized manner,” and that “it is necessary that the people get a reply… to their calls.”
The military underlined it will “not be a party in politics or rule.” But it said it has a responsibility to act because Egypt’s national security is facing a “grave danger,” according to the statement, read out on state television.
“The Armed Forces repeat its call for the people’s demands to be met and give everyone 48 hours as a last chance to shoulder the burden of a historic moment for a nation that will not forgive or tolerate any party that is lax in shouldering its responsibility,” it said.
It did not directly define “the people’s demands,” but said if they are not realized, the military is obliged to “announce a road-map for the future and the steps for overseeing its implementation, with participation of all patriotic and sincere parties and movements.”
Five Egyptian military helicopters trailing national flags circled over Cairo afterwards.
Anti-Mursi protesters rallying in the central Tahrir Square, focus of the 2011 uprising that overthrew autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, cheered as the choppers flew overhead.
Silhouetted against a sweltering sunset, the helicopters symbolized the army’s determination to force feuding politicians to share power.
It was the second ultimatum to be given to Mursi and the opposition to reach an agreement.
A week before the June 30 rallies, Gen. Sissi made threats of intervention if there was bloodshed and said the powerful military will not allow “attack on the will of the people” and urged Egyptians to seek consensus.
“The armed forces have an obligation to intervene to stop Egypt from plunging into a dark tunnel of conflict and infighting,” the army chief warned on the eve of the first anniversary of President Mursi’s election as opposition leaders clamored for his resignation, AFP reported.
“It is the national and moral duty of the army to intervene… to prevent sectarian strife or the collapse of state institutions,” Gen. Sissi added.
During Sunday rallies, a number of people were killed and hundreds others injured as opposition members clashed with supporters of President Mursi.
The headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo was torched and the offices of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) were also set on fire in several provinces.
The founder of the “Tamarud – Rebel!” coalition which brought millions out to demand the president’s ouster said he welcomed an ultimatum from the army to politicians and urged people to rally again until Mursi’s exit.
Mahmoud Badr told a televised news conference: “The statement of the armed forces has a single idea – supporting the will of the Egyptian people at this moment, which means early presidential elections.”
A senior Muslim Brotherhood politician said that no state institution would stage a coup against elected President Mursi and warned against misinterpreting an army statement.
“For an institution of state to come and stage a coup against the president, this will not happen,” said Yasser Hamza, a leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, according to Reuters.
“Any force that goes against the constitution is a call for sabotage and anarchy.”
The Muslim Brotherhood said it was “studying” the army’s statement.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is studying the army statement,” Mahmud Ghozlan told AFP.
He said the movement’s political bureau would meet to “decide on its position.”
Egypt’s second biggest Islamist party said on Monday it feared the army’s return to public life “in a big way” after the military gave politicians 48 hours to resolve the country’s political crisis.
The Nour Party believed Egypt’s national security was threatened by the division between the ruling Islamists and their opponents, Khaled Alam Eddin told the website of the Al-Ahram newspaper. “But we have fears about a return of the army once again in the picture in a big way,” he said.
The U.S. Defense Department declined to speculate on what might happen in Egypt during the next 48 hours, saying it was still reviewing the statement by the Egyptian army, according to Reuters.
“We’re in the process of reviewing that statement. We’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen one way or the other in the next 48 hours, so I wouldn’t engage in any kind of speculation,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.
“But I would say that we are supportive – as the (U.S.) president has said – of the democratic transition in Egypt and this process requires compromise on everyone’s part. And we hope that all Egyptians find a way to work peacefully to address the issues that the country’s facing,” said Little, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said “we urge all parties to ensure that the democratic process and the building of Egypt’s democratic institutions can continue.”
“We want to see no violence in Egypt. Tragically and regrettably, there has been some violence. We’re against all violence.”
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