2 Jul 2013

Egypt's leader rejects army's ultimatum

2:47 pm on 2 July 2013

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 his 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.

However in a statement issued at nearly 2am on Tuesday (local time), nine hours after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delighted Mr 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, Reuters reports.

"The president of the republic was not consulted about the statement issued by the armed forces. The presidency sees that some of the statements in it carry meanings that could cause confusion in the complex national environment."

The statement from Mr 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.

However, in referring to his plans for reconciliation as those he had spelt out before, he was speaking of offers that have already been rejected by the opposition, leaving it improbable that such compromises would bear fruit before General Sisi's deadline.

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 Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. On Tuesday, the state news agency said that 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 in 2012, 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.

United States President Barack Obama has urged Mr Mursi and his rivals to compromise. But Washington has also defended the legitimacy of Mr Mursi's election. It is unclear how far the Egyptian military has informed, or coordinated with, its American sponsors.

The coalition that backed Sunday's protests said there was no question of it negotiating now with Mr Morsi on the general's timetable and it was already formulating its positions for discussion directly with the army once the 48 hours are up.

General Sisi in his broadcast statement insisted that he had the interests of democracy at heart.

The army said it would oversee the implementation of the roadmap it sought "with the participation of all factions and national parties, including young people", but it would not get directly involved in politics or government. It is the second time in just over a week that the armed forces has issued a formal warning to the politicians.

Anti-Morsi 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 Hosni Mubarak.

The military has played an important role in Egyptian politics since army officers staged the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.

Egypt has remained in turmoil since the fall of Mr Mubarak more than two years ago, arousing concern among allies in the West and in Israel, with which Egypt has had a peace treaty since 1979.