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Tick tock: Deadlines loom for Egypt’s Morsy

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CAIRO — A deadline looms Tuesday for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, and another hangs over his head for Wednesday.

Opposition protesters are threatening to march on Cairo’s presidential palace, if Morsy does not step down Tuesday evening. So far, he has given no indication that he will do so.

But that is no surprise.

What’s unclear is what happens Wednesday.

That’s when a 48-hour deadline imposed by the Egypt’s military expires.

Appearing to throw its weight behind the opposition that has swarmed Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the military told Morsy’s government it has until Wednesday evening to “meet the demands of the people,” or it will step in to restore order.

But the army stopped short of saying that it was suggesting a coup.

The ultimatum was meant to push all factions toward quick solutions and a national consensus, and the armed forces aren’t looking to be part of the political or ruling circles, a spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali, said in a written statement Monday.

While insisting they want no direct role in national politics, the generals appeared instead to be pressuring Egypt’s first freely elected president to restructure his government.

The steps could include reducing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in his Cabinet and calling early presidential and parliamentary elections, a source close to highly placed members of Egypt’s leadership told CNN.

Obama phone call

On Monday, President Barack Obama phoned Morsy, encouraging him to make sure all Egyptians are represented by the government, “including the many Egyptians demonstrating.”

Morsy’s government has insisted that its decisions are legitimate, because it was democratically elected.

Obama addressed this argument directly in his conversation with Morsy.

“He stressed that democracy is about more than elections,” a White House statement released early Tuesday said.

Obama also reiterated to Morsy that the United States does not support any party or movement in Egypt.

He called for an end to violence on all sides and expressed particular concern about sexual assaults on women.

State-funded Egyptian daily Al-Ahram has reported 46 sexual assaults during anti-Morsy protests in Egypt since Sunday, citing the volunteer group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment.

A Dutch journalist was reportedly raped Friday while covering protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. She was hospitalized and underwent surgery before flying back to the Netherlands.

Over the weekend, an Egyptian journalist died in a bomb attack on a Muslim Brotherhood office; four other local journalists were beaten, and their camera equipment destroyed or stolen. Two Egyptian journalists were wounded by shotgun fire.

Tahrir celebration

Protesters in Tahrir Square, who listened to the military statement on radios and cell phones, cheered as it was read. They roared as military helicopters passed overhead at dusk, trailing Egyptian flags and the banners of the armed services. After nightfall, they waved flags, honked horns and set off fireworks.

“Everyone is talking as if Morsy is officially out of power and the Brotherhood is officially out of power, and everyone is celebrating,” Bassem Sabry, an Egyptian writer who took part in Monday’s protests, told CNN’s “Connect the World.”

But Morsy’s office early Tuesday called the democratically elected government the most important achievement of his nation’s revolution, adding, “Egypt, by all its power, will not allow the country to go backwards under any circumstances.”

Morsy’s supporters held smaller rallies Monday in Cairo neighborhoods away from Tahrir Square.

In the face of the anti-government protests, which began over the weekend, five ministers announced their resignations Monday. The latest was Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.

Morsy’s failings

Morsy, a U.S.-educated Islamist, was elected Egypt’s president in June 2012, but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian over his year in power.

And he has failed to revive Egypt’s economy, which crashed when the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak drove tourists away.

That has disaffected many of his supporters among Egypt’s poor and middle classes, said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.

“That some of the revolutionaries are calling on the army to return to politics is a testament to how polarized Egypt is a year after the election of Morsy,” Gerges said. “Think of the millions of people who cheered Morsy after his election. Think of the millions of Egyptians who pinned their hopes on Morsy.

“A year later, now, the millions of Egyptians who cheered for Morsy are saying he must go.”

Gerges cast doubt on Morsy’s ability to lead and called him “a president who is basically his own worst enemy.” But he doubted the military would actually step in to depose him, which he said “would plunge Egypt into a greater legal, political and institutional crisis.”

The military will want to see the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood reduced in government and in the constitution, Gerges said.

The Islamic political movement was repressed under Mubarak but is now the most powerful political force in Egypt.

Divided opposition

The opposition Tamarod (“rebel”) campaign called for nationwide protests, civil disobedience and a march on the presidential palace if Morsy doesn’t leave office by Tuesday.

Demonstrators say they have collected 17 million signatures — roughly 4 million more than the number of votes that won Morsy the presidency — calling for Morsy to go.

The opposition is made up of various groups and loose coalitions, and not all anti-Morsy protesters agree with the democratic road map the Tamarod campaign is advocating. Some are loyal to the ousted Mubarak government, while others want the army to intervene.

AbdulMawgoud Dardery, a former member of parliament and a Muslim Brotherhood representative, told CNN’s “Amanpour” program that the military could be an “honest broker” in a national dialogue. He said Morsy has reached out to opposition leaders many times, but the opposition “is afraid of democracy.”

“It failed in the previous five elections we had in Egypt since the revolution, and they don’t want to fail a sixth time,” he said. “That’s why they’re going to street politics.”

National security

Opponents say Morsy’s policies also are to blame for a breakdown in law and order.

Adding to the anger, a gas shortage has Egyptians waiting at the pumps for hours.

Monday’s military statement seemed to adopt the protesters’ perspective, calling the crisis a grave threat to national security while praising demonstrators as determined and admirable.

“Wasting more time will only lead to more division and fighting which we have and continue to warn against,” the military said in its statement.

The developments were being closely watched around the region and in the United States, Egypt’s leading ally.

Washington provided tens of billions of dollars in military and economic aid to Egypt under Mubarak and pledged $1 billion to the post-Mubarak government.

Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters Monday that the U.S. Defense Department is reviewing the statement from the Egyptian military.

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