CAIRO: Egypt’s presidency on Tuesday spurned an army ultimatum threatening to intervene if Islamist President Mohamed Morsi did not meet the demands of the people, raising the stakes in the country’s political crisis.
Piling the pressure on Morsi, his foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr quit in the latest and most high profile cabinet resignation following the ministers of tourism, environment, investment and legal affairs.
The 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.
Morsi’s supporters, who have also taken to the streets to defend his legitimacy, say any attempt to remove the democratically elected president from power is no less than a coup.
The army denied 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 to the current crisis.”
Morsi is Egypt’s first freely elected president.
A longtime leader of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, he was catapulted to power by the 2011 uprising that ended three decades of dictator Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
Monday’s army statement came just a day after millions of protesters took to the streets across Egypt, calling for Morsi to step down.
It received a rapturous welcome from Morsi’s opponents who spilled into the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and several other provinces, waving flags, chanting for the army and against Morsi.
Tamarod, the grassroots campaign behind Sunday’s massive protests against Morsi, also hailed the statement by the armed forces which it said had “sided with the people”.
It “will mean early presidential elections”, Tamarod’s spokesman Mahmud Badr told reporters.
In Tahrir, protesters voiced their support for the army chief, chanting: “Come down Sisi, Morsi is not my president.”
The army, which led a tumultuous transition after the 2011 revolt that ousted Mubarak, had given all parties one week to reconcile their differences.
“This week, there has been no sign of gestures or acts,” the army statement said.
“Wasting more time will lead only to more division… which we have warned and continue to warn against.”
Egypt has been deeply divided between Morsi’s Islamist supporters and a broad-based opposition.
Tamarod had issued its own ultimatum, giving Morsi until 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Tuesday to quit or face an open-ended campaign of civil disobedience.
But the army statement significantly increased the stakes.
Sixteen people died in protests on Sunday, including eight in clashes between supporters and opponents of the president outside the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi belongs, the health ministry said.
Early on Monday, protesters set the Brotherhood’s headquarters ablaze before looting it.
Tamarod — Arabic for rebellion — is a grassroots campaign which says it has collected more than 22 million signatures to a petition demanding new elections.
Morsi’s opponents accuse him of having betrayed the revolution by concentrating power in Islamist hands and of sending the economy into freefall.
His supporters say he inherited many problems from a corrupt regime, and that he should be allowed to complete his term, which ends in 2016.
But the counter-demonstrations they organised in the run-up to Sunday’s protests failed to draw the numbers that the opposition brought out onto the streets.
US President Barack Obama, whose government is a major military aid donor to Egypt, called Morsi to warn him that the voices of all Egyptians must be heard, a White House official said Tuesday.
Obama placed the call from Tanzania, on the final stop of his African tour and told him Washington was committed to “the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group,” the official said.
The United Nations warned that what happened in Egypt would have a bearing on others that toppled authoritarian governments during and after the 2011 Arab Spring.