By Yasmine Saleh and Alastair Macdonald
CAIRO | Wed Jul 3, 2013
(Reuters) – Egypt’s army commander and Islamist President Mohamed Mursi each pledged his life to defy the other as a deadline approached on Wednesday that will trigger a military takeover backed by protesters.
The military chiefs, wanting to restore order in a country racked by protests over Mursi’s Islamist policies, issued a call to battle in a statement headlined “The Final Hours”. They said they were willing to shed blood against “terrorists and fools” after Mursi refused to give up his elected office.
Mursi said, “The price … is my life.”
A report in Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper said it expected Mursi to either step down or be removed from office and that the army would set up a three-member presidential council to be chaired by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
A military source denied several local press reports on the details of the army’s “political roadmap” to resolve the standoff and said he expected the army to first call political, social and economic figures for talks to decide what to do next.
As a mass of revelers on Cairo’s Tahrir Square feted the army for saving the revolutionary democracy won there two years ago, supporters of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced a “military coup”. Some clashed with security forces at Cairo University, where 16 people were killed and about 200 wounded.
Military sources earlier told Reuters the army had drafted a plan to sideline Mursi and suspend the constitution after a 5 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT) deadline passes.
Coordinated with political leaders, an interim council would rule pending new elections. The sources would not say what was planned for an uncooperative president.
Facing the expiry of a 48-hour ultimatum set by the head of the armed forces that he should agree a power-sharing deal with his rivals, Mursi broadcast a defiant, if somewhat rambling, address to the nation to defend his “legitimacy” – a word he used repeatedly in the course of 45 minutes.
Liberal opposition leaders, who have vowed not to negotiate with Mursi since the ultimatum was issued, immediately denounced his refusal to go as a declaration of “civil war”.
The youth movement that organized the mass protests urged the Republican Guard to arrest Mursi immediately and present him for trial.
(Reporting by Asma Alsharif, Alexander Dziadosz, Shaimaa Fayed, Maggie Fick, Alastair Macdonald, Shadia Nasralla, Tom Perry, Yasmine Saleh, Paul Taylor, Ahmed Tolba and Patrick Werr in Cairo, Abdelrahman Youssef in Alexandria, Yursi Mohamed in Ismailia and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Paul Taylor, Alastair Macdonald and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Alison Williams)