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Middle East and North Africa

In wake of new protests, Egyptian Army gives Morsi ultimatum

After Egypt’s mass protests escalated in intensity this weekend, the Egyptian Army issued an ultimatum to President Mohamed Morsi to give concessions to protestors, or risk the military imposing their own “road map” to solving the issue, with “the participation of all the sincere national factions and trends,” according to Defense Minister General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi.

It has been more than two years since the Egyptian Army all but ended the Egyptian Revolution in February 2011. Although former president Hosni Mubarak and both of his succeeding prime ministers during the conflict, Ahmed Nazif and Ahmed Shafik, stepped down without violence being taken against them, the initial ambiguity and later renunciation of the Egyptian Army’s loyalty to Mubarak, and the Army’s subsequent defense of the protestors, was the true death blow to the Mubarak-led National Democratic Party regime.

2011 was not the first time the Egyptian Army overthrew the country’s ruling regime. In 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Muhammad Naguib led the Free Officers Movement in a coup d’état against King Farouk bin Muhammad Ali, as well as a revolt against British imperial occupation of Egypt. This coup marked the establishment of the Arab Republic of Egypt as we know it today. The Free Officers Movement was composed of junior officers in the Egyptian Army who had fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In light of both the recent Arab Spring revolution and the older 1952 revolution, the power of the Egyptian Army in its ability to overthrow unfit leaders cannot be ignored, and may turn out to be disastrous for Morsi, especially considering the sheer numbers in the protests do not seem to be on his side. About 15.5 million people participated in Sunday’s mass protests, according to the Egyptian defense ministry, while considerably fewer came out in support of Morsi.

If Morsi can garner the support of neither the people nor the Army, it may spell the end for the Freedom and Justice Party regime, which has reigned in the Egyptian House of Representatives since January 2012 and in the presidency since June 2012. 

The Egyptian Army has clarified its original statement, claiming that the “road map” of which it spoke was not to be an actual coup d’état, and that the army “does not aspire to rule and will not overstep its prescribed role”, but will “push towards a national consensus that responds to the people’s demands.” Sisi and other Army leaders have not specified what this national consensus might entail, but maintain that Morsi has 48 hours to “heed the will of the people.”

But even if the Egyptian Army makes good on this promise and does not overthrow Morsi, its extremely high level of power in the country means that it holds most of the cards. It is possible that the Army will demand the resignation of Morsi’s prime minister, Hesham Qandil, and the instillation of somebody in the position who is not affiliated with either the Freedom and Justice Party or the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the FJP’s umbrella organization. No such personnel change has been suggested as of yet by the Egyptian Army.

By Laura Gates

Source: New York Times, Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, The Guardian

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