CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt’s political crisis deepened on Tuesday as Islamist President Mohamed Morsi snubbed an army ultimatum threatening to intervene if he did not meet the demands of the people, and five ministers led a spate of government resignations.
The opposition too expressed concern that the military was poised to play a political role in the deeply divided country, even as the army hastened to damp down talk of an imminent “coup.”
An army statement, read out on television Monday, had given Morsi 48 hours to comply with its call, after millions of people took to the streets nationwide to demand the Islamist leader step down.
“If the demands of the people are not met in this period… (the armed forces) will announce a future roadmap and measures to oversee its implementation,” it said.
In a statement issued overnight, the presidency insisted it would continue on its own path towards national reconciliation.
The army declaration had not been cleared by the presidency and could cause confusion, it said.
The presidency also denounced any declaration that would “deepen division” and “threaten the social peace.”
The president was consulting “with all national forces to secure the path of democratic change and the protection of the popular will”, it added.
In Cairo, both Morsi supporters and opponents prepared for mass demonstrations later on Tuesday.
Backers of the president joined a sit-in in his support in Cairo’s Nasr City neighborhood, as hundreds more gathered near Cairo University vowing to defend his legitimacy.
In Tahrir Square, the jubilant mood following the army’s statement gave way to tension, with fears of violence in the coming days.
“The regime is no longer legitimate,” said Mostafa Gharib, adding that he feared the Islamists would “fight to the end” nonetheless.
Accountant Mona Elghazawy said she was “very worried”. “It’s now a battle between all the state institutions and the Islamists.”
In Cairo, most businesses remained closed and very few cars were on the streets, highlighting the anxiety on what would normally have been a busy working day.
Morsi’s supporters say any attempt to remove Egypt’s first freely elected president from power is no less than a coup.
Egypt’s main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, said it would “not support a military coup.”
It expressed trust in the army’s insistence that it does not want to get involved in politics.
The army denied there was any attempt at a “coup”, saying that army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s statement was merely aimed at “pushing all political sides to quickly find a solution.”