Egypt's embattled president Mohamed Morsi struck a defiant note early today, vowing to stay in power and defend constitutional legitimacy. But even as he spoke, army generals were working on plans to push his elected Islamist government aside, possibly as early as today, and suspend the constitution.
In a defiant midnight television address responding to military demands that he share power with his opponents or see the army impose its own solution, Mr Morsi warned that any deviation from the democratic order approved in a series of votes last year would lead Egypt down a dangerous path.
He was speaking as vast crowds of protesters rallied in central Cairo and across the nation to demand the Muslim Brotherhood politician’s resignation in a third night of mass demonstrations. His supporters also turned out and some were involved in clashes with security forces at Cairo University, where 16 people were reported dead and about 200 wounded.
“The price of preserving legitimacy is my life,” Mr Morsi said in an impassioned, repetitive, 45-minute ramble. “Legitimacy is the only guarantee to preserve the country.”
In a warning aimed as much at his own militant supporters as at the army, he said: “We do not declare jihad against each other. We only wage jihad on our enemies.”
Urging Egyptians not to heed the siren calls of what he called remnants of the former authoritarian regime, “the deep state” and the corrupt, he said: “Don’t be fooled. Don’t fall into the trap. Don’t let them steal your revolution.”
But an opposition spokesman called Morsi’s defiance “an open call for civil war”. Peaceful protests would go on, he said. Earlier, the army demanded Mr Morsi discuss power sharing with the opposition as part of a military plan for a transition from Muslim Brotherhood sole rule to inclusive, multiparty democracy.
Leaked to the press yesterday, the military’s plan calls for Mr Morsi’s removal, appointment of an interim chief executive, dissolution of the surviving Brotherhood-dominated upper house of parliament and suspension of the controversial constitution written by a Brotherhood-led commission.
The military proposes to form an interim council, comprised of civilians from various political groups and technocrats which would run the country until a new constitution can be written. Parliamentary elections would be delayed until viable candidates can stand. Among the figures considered for chief executive is the president of the constitutional court, Adli Mansour, who assumed the post on Monday.
However, Mr Morsi has called on the military to drop its ultimatum and refused to stand down.
Three hours after Morsi’s midnight television appearance, the military high command responded with a post on its Facebook page. The post said they, too, were willing to lay down their lives to defend their position - one which they described as defending the Egyptian people from “terrorists, radicals and fools”. A military source said the message came from General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the armed forces commander appointed by Mr Morsi last year, who issued the ultimatum to politicians on Monday.
It was posted on the official Facebook page of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF. It entered history books as Egypt’s ruling institution after the army pushed aside Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring uprising of early 2011.
“It is an honour for us to die rather than that anyone should terrorise or threaten the Egyptian people,” it said. “We swear to God, we will sacrifice even our blood for Egypt and its people to defend them against any terrorist, radical or fool. “Long live Egypt and its people.”
Rejected the ultimatum
Aware that they will lose power whatever the decision, he and the Brotherhood have rejected the ultimatum. Alaa Moustafa, spokeswoman for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said it is committed to democracy and the president would call for a national dialogue open to all.
In response to a call for support, thousands of Brotherhood backers joined tens of thousands at a rally at the Rabaa al-Adawiya in Nasr City and at Cairo University square. They argue he is the legitimate elected president and say they will defend with their lives the army “coup” intended to remove him from office.
When Mohamed El-Beltagi, a senior official of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said that “preventing this coup may call for martyrdom”, the opposition castigated his comment as “inflammatory” and said it did not want any Egyptian to die in the ongoing power struggle.
Hundreds of thousands took part in pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrations in Alexandria, Suez, and Port Said and there were clashes in a host of provincial towns.