Egypt protests: Morsi sets up face-off with army, as ministers resign

01Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi set up a dramatic face-off with the army on Tuesday, rejecting a threat by the military to intervene in government, as the fifth ministerial resignation in recent days added to his woes.

By Richard Spencer
Following late night meetings, the presidency issued a brief statement in the early hours, saying it would “not allow Egypt to return to the past”. Mr Morsi was committed to his “previously plotted path”, it said, denouncing declarations that “deepen divisions between citizens”.

The pledge came as the sense of disintegration surrounding Mr Morsi’s government intensified with the resignation of his foreign minister, Kamel Amr, bringing to five the number of cabinet departures over the weekend.

The army had thrown open all possibilities on Monday evening with its statement giving the president and the opposition 48 hours to present a way out of the country’s political impasse. It said it would otherwise present its own “road map” – interpreted widely as either a return to military rule, at least in the short term, or an imposition of fresh elections against the president’s will.

The announcement was ecstatically cheered by anti-Morsi protesters in Tahrir Square, many of them the same people who had demonstrated to bring about the end of the military dictatorship of ex-President Hosni Mubarak two and a half years ago.

However, Muslim Brotherhood officials denounced it as a “coup”. They had been blindsided by the size of the anti-Morsi rallies on Sunday, the largest in Egypt’s history, but were still insistent that the “legitimacy” of Mr Morsi’s election victory a year ago demanded he stay in office. Mr Morsi’s statement said he had not been consulted over the army’s ultimatum, which it described as likely to “cause confusion”. As president, Mr Morsi is technically supreme commander of the armed forces.

Whether or how the army would push ahead with its ultimatum was already unclear by the time Mr Morsi’s statement was issued.

A spokesman issued a “clarification” on Monday night, denying the army was preparing a coup and saying only that it was trying to force the presidency and opposition together. But the leading opposition parties have been refusing to negotiate terms with the president since a new constitution was rushed through last November.

The Brotherhood also believes it has won American backing for what it calls the “democratic process” after a phone call between Mr Morsi and President Barack Obama on Monday night.

The American ambassador in Egypt, Anne Patterson, has come under withering fire from protesters for what they say is her support for Mr Morsi. She has denied taking sides but has said that Washington remains “sceptical” about the preference for “street politics to elections”.

However, Mr Obama’s spokesman on Tuesday suggested any support he expressed for Mr Morsi came with strings attached. “He stressed that democracy is about more than elections; it is also about ensuring that the voices of all Egyptians are heard and represented by their government, including the many Egyptians demonstrating throughout the country,” a White House statement said.

“President Obama encouraged President Morsi to take steps to show that he is responsive to their concerns, and underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process.”

The ministerial resignations, however, represent a significant blow to Mr Morsi’s attempts to build a wide consensus behind his government. Mr Amr, a career diplomat who does not hail from the Muslim Brotherhood, had taken a low profile since his appointment with much of the president’s foreign relations brief being handled by Essam el-Haddad a senior Brotherhood figure and long-term adviser.

Nevertheless, the collapse of what was vaunted to be a technocratic rather than Brotherhood cabinet reinforces the stark choice Mr Morsi now faces – whether the Brotherhood can “go it alone” or will be forced to back down.

Even the Nour Party, the party which represents purist “Salafi” Muslims which won a quarter of the vote in parliamentary elections, has abandoned him. Its spokesman said it was also backing new elections.

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