Egyptian military issues warning over protests

Photo clipped from live video stream.
Monday, July 1, 2013 - 12:06pm

Egypt's armed forces sent a stiff message to the country's embattled president and his political opponents and allies, saying Monday that the growing governing dispute must be resolved in 48 hours or it will step in to restore order.

"The armed forces repeat their call for the people's demand to be met and gives everyone 48 hours as a final chance to shoulder the burden of a historic moment in our country which will not forgive any party that will be negligent in bearing their responsibility," it said.

The statement clearly energized a crowd of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, who cheered during key points and cheered military helicopters flying overhead. Some of the helicopters carried Egyptian flags.

A source close to highly placed members of Egypt's leadership said that the military's statement was essentially a demand for political restructuring, including early presidential and parliamentary elections.

The statement is a warning that the military will take over the government if President Mohamed Morsy does not accede to the demands, the source said.

The military's announcement comes the same day the protest movement announced on Facebook that if Morsy doesn't leave office by Tuesday, the Tamarod (the "rebel" campaign") group will begin a civil disobedience movement, call for nationwide protests and march on the presidential palace, where Morsy's administration is running affairs.

On Monday, protesters stormed the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party that Morsy led before his election. Armed with Molotov cocktails, the mob set the office on fire, shouting, "The people have toppled the regime."

At least 16 people were killed and more than 780 were wounded Sunday and Monday during the unrest in Egypt, the nation's health minister said, according to the official Egypt News agency.

Dr. Mohammed Mustafa Hamid told the news agency that eight people alone were killed in clashes at the Muslim Brotherhood's national headquarters in Cairo. All but 182 of the wounded have left the hospital after receiving treatment for their injuries.

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

On the one hand

Those calling for Morsy's ouster say he has hijacked the gains made in the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak and has pushed aside moderate voices.

They say Morsy's policies are to blame for a breakdown in law and order, for an economy that's gone south, and for a gas shortage that has Egyptians waiting at the pumps for hours.

On the other

Those supporting the president say he is the people's choice and refer to the 13 million votes he earned in elections held exactly a year ago Sunday. They say he inherited a broken system and should be given time to fix it.

"We're not leaving, and the president is staying," one supporter told CNN. "We believe in democracy. If people don't like him, they can vote him out in three years."

Deadly results

Periodically, the two sides have clashed and the results have been deadly -- even before the Sunday clashes.

On Friday, Andrew Pochter, a 21-year-old American in Alexandria to teach children English, was stabbed to death while watching the demonstrations, his family said.

And the Muslim Brotherhood has lost four members to violence in recent days. The Islamist group was shunted aside under Mubarak but is now the most powerful political force in Egypt.

For his part, Morsy says he is ready for dialogue. But the gap between the two camps is wide and only getting wider.

Unclear road map

The demonstrators say they have collected 17 million signatures -- roughly 4 million more than what won Morsy the presidency -- and all of them call for Morsy to go.

The opposition is made up of various groups and loose coalitions, and not all anti-Morsy protesters agree with the road map the Tamarod campaign is advocating.

Some are loyal to the ousted Mubarak government, while others want the army to intervene.

The army variable

Last week, Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said the army would, if necessary, "prevent Egypt from slipping into a dark tunnel of civil unrest and killing, sectarianism and the collapse of state institutions."

His remarks raised the specter of a return to the powerful role the military played in domestic politics under Mubarak.

"Egypt," the government-run newspaper Al-Akhbar said, "is on the brink of a volcano."

-- CNN's Ian Lee and Housam Ahmed contributed to this report.

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