Millions take to Egyptian streets as army threatens elections
24 hours before ultimatum expires; military’s road map for political stability said to include suspending constitution and dissolving parliament; 7 killed, dozens hurt in clashes
CAIRO — Egypt’s military has drawn up a plan to suspend the Islamist-backed constitution, dissolve the Islamist-dominated legislature and set up an interim administration headed by the country’s chief justice if President Mohammed Morsi fails to reach a solution with his opponents by the end of a Wednesday deadline, the state news agency reported.
The report Tuesday provided the first details on the road map that the military has said it will implement if Morsi fails to meet its ultimatum, as millions of protesters returned to the streets for the third straight day in their drive to force the Islamist president out of office.
At least 7 people were killed and 144 injured in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents around the country. The deaths reportedly took place in the Cairo neighborhood of Giza, where the sides fired live ammunition and hurled rocks at each other.
Protesters also turned to a new target, massing a giant crowd outside the Qasr el-Qobba presidential palace where Morsi has been working in recent days, in addition to filling wide avenues outside another palace, central Tahrir Square and main squares in cities nationwide.
It was not clear if Morsi was in the palace.
Morsi’s supporters also increased their presence in the streets, after his Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line Islamist leaders called them out to defend the legitimacy of the country’s first freely elected president. Tens of thousands held marches in Cairo and other cities. Clashes broke out around pro-Morsi marches in several parts of the capital and a string of cities to the north and south. Morsi opponents stormed Brotherhood offices in two towns.
With the clock ticking on the military’s ultimatum, many in the anti-Morsi and pro-Morsi camps were vowing to fight to the end.
Fearing an implosion that could throw Egypt into chaos, U.S. officials said Washington has suggested to Morsi that he call early elections, though they underlined they were demanding specific steps — and they said they had underlined to Egypt’s military that a coup would have consequences for U.S. aid. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Morsi adviser Ayman Ali denied that Washington asked the president to call for early presidential elections and said consultations were continuing to reach national conciliation and resolve the current political crisis. He did not elaborate.
The army has underlined that it has no intention to take power. But the reported army road map showed it was ready to replace Morsi and make a sweeping change in the ramshackle political structure that has evolved since the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
A retired army general with close ties to the military confirmed the news agency report on the road map.
Hossam Sweilam said a panel of experts would draft a new constitution and the interim administration would be a presidential council led by the Supreme Constitutional Court’s chief justice and including the defense minister, representatives of political parties, youth groups, Al-Azhar Mosque and the Coptic Church.
He said the military envisaged a one-year transitional period before presidential elections are held.
The military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, declined to confirm the details. “It is too early and we don’t want to jump into conclusions,” he said.
In a significant move, opposition parties and the youth movement behind the demonstrations agreed that reform leader and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei would represent them in any negotiations on the country’s political future. The move appeared aimed at presenting a unified voice in a post-Morsi system, given the widespread criticism that the opposition has been too fragmented to present an alternative to the Islamists.
Morsi faced fissures from within.
Three government spokesmen — two who spoke for Morsi and one who spoke for Prime Minister Hesham Kandil — were the latest to quit as part of high-level defections that underscored his increasing isolation and fallout from the military’s ultimatum. Five Cabinet ministers, including the foreign minister, resigned Monday, and sixth, Youth Minister El-Amry Farouq, quit Tuesday.