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Egyptian Armed Forces Give Morsi Ultimatum: Respond to Protests or Military Will

July 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to instability in Egypt and new questions about the political future of President Mohammed Morsi.

Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: Following an outpouring of dissent from millions of anti-government demonstrators in the streets of Egypt yesterday, the country’s top generals today gave President Mohammed Morsi 48 hours to respond, or said the military will.

Their ultimatum came in an audio statement read on state television.

MAN (through translator): The armed forces repeats its call for the people’s demands to be met. If the people’s demands are not achieved before the agreed period of time, then it is the duty of the military to announce a road map for the future and to take measures to supervise the execution.

MARGARET WARNER: Late today, after the statement, hundreds of thousands amassed again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and in what the protesters took as a show of solidarity, army helicopters swooped over them dangling Egyptian flags.

Today’s ultimatum from the Supreme Military Council headed by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hearkened back to the council’s removal of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 after 18 days of protests.

Those in Tahrir today were denouncing their first post-Mubarak president, Morsi, and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

MAN (through translator): He made several promises that he didn’t fulfill. He only fulfilled the Brotherhood’s promises. He’s been here for a year now and nothing has happened. He has not accomplished anything. The whole country came out.

MARGARET WARNER: Five non-Brotherhood ministers resigned their posts today, but that didn’t mollify this opposition leader.

SHADY GHAZALI HARB, National Salvation Front: I don’t think the resignation of any of the officials would be of any importance right now because, I mean, 30 million people have been in the streets yesterday asking for the resignation of the president. And anything less than that is nonsense.

MARGARET WARNER: Estimates of yesterday’s multi-city crowds were unconfirmed. But clearly many millions turned out for the rallies organized by a group calling itself Tamarod, or rebel in Arabic.

Since being elected last year, Morsi and the Brotherhood have consolidated power, ramming through a new constitution and pro-Islamist measures.

Meanwhile, security is faltering, the economy is in shambles. Tourism never recovered from the 2011 uprising, and now there are major fuel shortages.

Sectarian conflict is also rising in the mostly Sunni Muslim nation. President Obama today urged Morsi to seek consensus.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Although Mr. Morsi was elected democratically, there’s more work to be done to create the conditions in which everybody feels that their voices are heard and that the government is responsive and truly representative.

MARGARET WARNER: Though yesterday’s massive outpouring was peaceful, last night brought a different story.

The Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters was torched. Men inside fired on protesters, killing several. In Cairo today, a Morsi supporter said the Brotherhood would fight to protect their elected president.

HAMDI SULEIMAN, Morsi supporter (through translator): The battle is over the identity of this state right now. Since the revolution happened, the forces that we call secular are fighting so that Egypt’s identity will not be an Islamic identity, but I insist that Egypt’s identity must be Islamic.

MARGARET WARNER: Once clear difference from 2011, when the military ousted Mubarak, it took over running the country. In today’s statement, the military council said it would — quote — “not take part in the political or governing arena.”

As of midnight tonight, there had been no public response from President Morsi. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey spoke with the chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces today.