Deadline On Egypt Military's Ultimatum Passes

Originally published on July 3, 2013 4:38 pm

Egypt’s military has suspended the Islamist-backed constitution and called early elections.

The military also announced that embattled President Mohammed Morsi will be replaced.

Cheers erupted among millions of protesters nationwide who were demanding Morsi’s ouster.

The military earlier today moved to tighten its control of key institutions. It did so with the passing of a deadline it had set for Morsi to meet the demands of protesters calling for him to leave office. Just before the deadline arrived, Morsi vowed again not to step down. And he criticized the military for “taking only one side.”

Soon after the deadline passed, a military helicopter circled over the anti-Morsi crowds in Cairo’s central Tahrir square — which had become a sea of furiously waving Egyptian flags. The crowd chanted for Morsi to “leave.” After nightfall, fireworks went off, and green lasers flashed over the crowd.

More from Cairo: Reporter Kimberly Adams and historian Khaled Fahmy


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From NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. It's Here and Now. The U.S. State Department says the situation in Egypt remains fluid, and U.S. officials say they cannot confirm whether a military coup is underway, this after the deadline from the Egyptian military for President Morsi to solve the country's crisis or step down passed hours ago.

In Cairo, troops in full combat gear have been deployed on strategic bridges and near protest sites, where supporters of the embattled president have gathered, and the building where Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, has been working is now surrounded by barbed wire.

HOBSON: Morsi rejected that ultimatum by the military to step down, and meanwhile thousands of people have gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo, chanting that he should give up power. I spoke earlier with freelance reporter Kimberly Adams, who is overlooking the square.

KIMBERLY ADAMS: I am seeing thousands and thousands of people and thousands and thousands of waving flags. It's like a sea of Egyptian flags punctuated by tents and fireworks, all of them cheering, hoping that the military is going to step in and push out President Mohammed Morsi.

HOBSON: So an upbeat atmosphere? Because obviously we've heard a lot of reports about violence.

ADAMS: Yes, here in Tahrir Square right now, it's upbeat. I actually drove my scooter to get here, and I actually had to weave my way through one of the marches, and they were very festive, faces painted, cheering and chanting and honking horns of the cars going by. But at the same time, one has to realize that after dark, things have tended to get quite bad here in Tahrir Square. At least 90 cases of sexual assault going on here in Tahrir Square, according to Human Rights Watch, over the past few days.

HOBSON: Well so it's interesting. You've got this crowd that's very excited about whatever might be about to happen, but we don't really know what that will be. I mean, do they know what they want next?

ADAMS: They want stability; that much is clear. People, if you ask the people who are going out into these protests why they are protesting, it's not only because they are against the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which President Mohammed Morsi comes, but also because they want economic and political stability in their country.

They want there to be more jobs. They don't want these recurring power outages and fuel shortages and rising food prices. And so it seems that what people want is stability. And even though just a little bit over a year ago, people were out in this same square calling for the downfall of the military regime, now you have all of these people out in the streets and the squares of Egypt hoping that the return of the military regime will bring that stability.

HOBSON: How is the message getting out from the various factions here, from the Morsi government, from the military? How are they letting people know what's going on?

ADAMS: It's very interesting. Some people are saying that because the military has reportedly taken over the state television building that this is why President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, as well as the opposition groups and the military, everyone is putting out their messages on Facebook and Twitter.

So for example, Morsi's first reaction to these multiple days of protests last night was actually a statement on Twitter calling for the military to withdraw this deadline. Most of these statements are first coming out on either Facebook or Twitter.

HOBSON: Freelance reporter Kimberly Adams, overlooking Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Kimberly, thanks.

ADAMS: Thank you.

YOUNG: Well, David Kirkpatrick is also in Cairo. He's Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times. We reached him on a land line earlier and asked him to describe the mood there.

DAVID KIRKPATRICK: The situation right now is extremely tense. We have large crowds, supporters of President Morsi in the street and opponents of President Morsi in the street. There have been small but ominous signs, all day, of steps toward a military coup. The latest is security officials telling us that the intelligence agencies have placed a travel ban on President Morsi, on the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and on his most influential deputy, Khairat el-Shater.

Earlier today, the security forces rounded up and arrested six bodyguards of the Supreme Guide, the spiritual leader, Mohamed Badei. Talks have been ongoing all day between President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood on one hand and the military generals on the other, but both side seem to be suggesting that no progress has been made.

The president is saying - the president's office is saying that they've offered extensive concessions, including the forming of a coalition government, but that this is apparently not enough. And I know people around the president are prepared for events as drastic as the president himself being led away in handcuffs.

I'm not sure that's going to happen, but that's the kind of atmosphere we're in right now.

YOUNG: David, it's Robin here in Boston. I just want to make sure people heard you, that we might be seeing President Morsi being - a democratically elected president being led away in handcuffs. And as you said, you heard from officials that there's also been this travel ban imposed. But did we hear anything around the time of the end of the military's deadline? It was a 48-hour deadline. It passed. Did they make a statement? Was anything said?

KIRKPATRICK: No, this has been a (unintelligible) deadline. This is a deadline that I think no one really thought was going to be adhered to (unintelligible), you know, nor should it. These are weighty matters of state, and it's not like you should be looking at your pocket watch and saying oh, time's up, here we go, bring out the cuffs.

So, you know, I don't think we should get hung up on the passage of that particular moment in time. But it doesn't mean that the situation is stabilized, and there's no sense of urgency.

YOUNG: Well, now you've been saying that we might see the president led away. Some of the president's aides today on social media have been saying they think this is a military coup. Is it?

KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, it's a military coup, there's no doubt about it. You know, when the top generals say look, we have no legal authority, we have no power under the constitution, we have (unintelligible), but we hold the big guns. And for that reason, Mr. President, we're going to have to ask you to do what we say, and guess what, it's leave, give up power, that's a military coup. There's no way around it.

In this case there are also millions of people in the streets asking President Morsi to resign. For sure he is not very popular right now. And you might even call this movement, you know, an uprising. You know, it's a big deal. And yet what we're looking at right now is still a military coup. You know, just because a lot of people would like to see it happen doesn't mean that it's a military coup. It's not democracy. It's not the rule of law. It's coercion and the use of force.

YOUNG: Well David, one quick question. There are a lot of people obviously in opposition to Morsi, they feel his government was too Islamist. But there are also - we've seen huge support for him, as well. Do you see some sort of physical clash also coming?

KIRKPATRICK: I don't know what's going to happen. What the president's advisors are saying are look, you know, around the world we see that when a democracy is smashed, there's violence. And in this case, hundreds of thousands of the president's supporters are all (unintelligible). And they will not budge. So to remove them is going to take violence, and it's going to take bloodshed.

You hear leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood saying things like our only recourse is martyrdom, or you're seeing things like we will have to do what we did on the 25th of January, when we overthrew Hosni Mubarak, and that is to put our bodies in front of the tanks.

So the rhetoric is very extreme. You know, a lot of times Egypt manages to pull itself back from the brink. But I - you know, the stakes are very, very high here, for sure.

YOUNG: Stakes are very high in Cairo, where David Kirkpatrick, Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, has been filling us in. David, thank you so much.

KIRKPATRICK: It's a pleasure.

HOBSON: And let's bring in Michael Hanna now. He's a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. And Michael, what do you make of what's going on? And give us a sense of the broader stakes here. I mean, Egypt has been so critical in the Arab Spring.

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Well, as you just heard from David, this is obviously a very fluid situation. I think the writing is on the wall at this point. There is not going to be an 11th-hour agreement for a resignation and a safe exit. And I think somewhat surprisingly, as opposed to trying to negotiate that more orderly exit, the Brotherhood has chosen to confront the military.

And one of the ways they're trying to do that is to try to stigmatize what is happening, within the international community, as a military coup to make it difficult upon those who are getting ready to undertake some sort of transition in Egypt, making it difficult to sell what has happened as part of a democratic transition.

In terms of the stakes, obviously Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world. What has happened there over the past almost two and a half years has had a big impact in terms of broader events. And clearly this again is going to have spillover effects. As you heard from David, there is concern about violence, and of course one of the main concerns is what this means in terms of the integration of Islamist political forces into democratic and electoral frameworks and some concern that groups other than the Muslim Brotherhood, more rigid Salafi groups and formerly militant groups, whose allegiance to democratic norms is perhaps tactical, that these groups might be susceptible to reversion back to violence and terrorism.

That's clearly one concern from what is happening, not to mention a concern of vigilante justice running in the other direction. Both sides have used violence, and political violence has now been introduced as a tool. So the security services have a huge job, now, in terms of trying to keep people apart and stemming perhaps broader violence.

HOBSON: Well Michael, quickly, I mean, are you surprised to hear that there are people in the square excited in Egypt about the possibility that their democratically elected president might be led away in handcuffs, as we just heard?

HANNA: It is - I mean, is it surprising? I think the lesson here is that repressive stability is no longer a sustainable approach to governance. It is true that Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, and that does bestow a certain amount of legitimacy to his leadership and tenure. By the same token, we've seen an increasing drift of authoritarian tactics, monopolistic, factional behavior.

The process by which the constitution was adopted was incredibly divisive and included a constitutional declaration that immunized the president from the courts. And so this very foundational document, in a sense, institutionalized the country's political crisis.

HOBSON: Right.

HANNA: And this has all been compounded by inept governance, mismanagement of the economy and a rapidly deteriorating economic situation. And so now you see an expanded, huge opposition on the streets. Crowds, frankly - I was there during most of the 18-day uprising, these crowds are bigger. These are larger crowds.

HOBSON: Michael Hanna, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. Thank you so much.

HANNA: Thank you.


YOUNG: OK, so again the New York Times' David Kirkpatrick tells us he's witnessing a military coup. The U.S. State Department says they're not sure. The AP is reporting that Egyptian troops have deployed across much of Cairo. The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has spoken to Egypt's defense minister. We'll have more. Back in a minute, Here and Now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.