CAIRO — The clock is ticking toward the showdown Wednesday that will determine whether the army will seize control of Egypt and end the embattled one-year rule of President Mohamed Morsi, the nation’s first Islamist leader.
The army has given Morsi until 5 p.m. Cairo time (8 a.m. PST) to either form a coalition government to quell months of unrest or face the prospect of a coup. Morsi has rebuffed the ultimatum, saying he will defend the constitution with his life.
The generals have been just as defiant. Helicopters buzzed over Cairo, and the military command was reportedly in an emergency meeting Wednesday. The army’s Facebook page carried an ominous post titled: “The Final Hours”:
“The general commander of the armed forces has mentioned that it is more honorable for us to die than for the Egyptian people to be intimidated or threatened … and we swear to god that we will sacrifice for Egypt and its people with our blood against any terrorist, fundamentalist, or ignorant [person].”
Fear, excitement and apprehension have gripped the nation, which two years ago overthrew Hosni Mubarak only to face economic turmoil, political divisions and deadly protests that have marred the path toward democracy. Pro- and anti-Morsi supporters clashed through Tuesday night, including fighting at Cairo University, where 16 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
The military is exasperated at Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party, but the president said he has the legitimacy of being Egypt’s first freely elected leader. Millions of anti-government demonstrators have demanded that Morsi step aside and call early elections.
Such a scenario would be a major defeat for the Brotherhood, a once-outlawed organization that has waited more than 80 years to impose its brand of political Islam on the country. But the forces of the secular state, founded after a 1952 military coup against British rule, are suspicious of Morsi’s intentions and the Brotherhood’s exclusion of other political voices.
The military, though, faces steep risks with a coup. It has said it will tear up the new Islamist-backed constitution and form a transitional coalition government made up of civilians. The army unsuccessfully ruled the country from 2011 until Morsi took office, and if it appears to remain it power too long, it will likely face a new backlash.
From the LA Times