As the clock ticks down for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the Israeli press holds its breath in anticipation of what happens next. The Egyptian military’s ultimatum to Morsi to reach a compromise with the protesters or face the armed forces’ “roadmap” expires on Wednesday, and the main headlines reflect that fact. Haaretz reads: “Morsi’s ultimatum expires today: The Egyptian army demands new elections.” Yedioth Ahronoth calls Wednesday “Judgment Day” for Morsi, while Israel Hayom goes with “The decision.” Maariv is the least hopeful, and its pessimistic (or perhaps realist) headline may foretell the imminent future: “Morsi rejects the ultimatum; fear of Egyptian civil war.”
Haaretz reports that a military spokesperson went on the airwaves to reject claims that the ultimatum implied a military coup, and explained that the armed forces aimed for “stability… reform and change for the better.”
Israel Hayom lays out the military’s roadmap for reform. First the army will dismiss the government and parliament and establish a temporary council comprising military, secular and religious officials, which will be tasked with running the country and forming a new constitution. The current constitution will be scrapped and the council will rule until elections are held, while the head of the supreme court will lead the council.
“Although the army didn’t detail how it will take power if Morsi refuses to go quietly, the military on Tuesday drilled taking over government institutions in the streets of Suez,” the paper reports.
Not everyone is convinced there will be a stable and quiet transition of power, notably the Salafist al-Nur party, the second largest in parliament, which also opposes Morsi’s rule, according to Maariv.
“Egypt is marching toward civil war,” Salah Abdul Mabud, spokesperson for al-Nur, is quoted as saying. A Muslim Brotherhood leader is also quoted as saying that his followers have no intention of giving up power without a fight. “We face an attempt at revolution that undermines the legitimacy of the elections and the constitution. We must pay any price in order to protect the revolution — even if that means additional deaths,” Mohammed al-Baltagi says.
Yedioth Ahronoth’s man on the ground, Eldad Beck, describes the precursor to such an all-out civil war that began on Tuesday. Whereas the gathering in Tahrir Square was a “noisy and jubilant folk festival,” he writes that “Morsi supporters went out for a final battle over the fate of their leader, and their mood was very different: They were aggressive, violent, roaming with clubs and attacking anyone they deemed their enemies — mostly Egyptian journalists that they see as enemies of Allah.”
Boaz Bismuth writes in Israel Hayom that if this power play by the Egyptian armed forces isn’t a military coup, “it’s at least a coup de grace.”
“The Egyptian army generally prefers to be discreet. It’s very rare that it issues warnings,” he says. “If it has already done it, it’s a sign that the situation in Egypt is very grave. Like in 2011 and today.” He says that the moment of truth is very close indeed.
Oudeh Basharat is probably the only columnist in the entire Hebrew press who is not all gloom and doom about the impending counterrevolution in Egypt. He says that with Morsi’s deposition, “Egypt is returning to its roots. And Egyptian roots aren’t buried in violent religious profiteering or in the dictatorship of Mubarak, but in the magnificent heritage of Saad Zaghloul,” an early 20th century Egyptian leader who preached peaceful acquisition of independence from Britain, justice and freedom.
“The day will come when the dramatic waves of change in Egypt sweep the entire Middle East,” Basharat says, harking back two years to the Arab Spring’s beginning. “Israel, which is taking a position that contradicts the desire of the Egyptian people” in supporting Morsi’s rule, “would be wise to begin to change its way of thinking if it doesn’t want to find itself going against the current of the Arab Spring that is reawakening.”
Smadar Peri writes in Yedioth Ahronoth that in this “fiery atmosphere” there are two characters that deserve special attention, as they are “peeking over the shoulder of the president”: Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister and loser to Morsi in last year’s elections, and Sami Anan, a former chief of staff who resigned on Tuesday. The latter is a secular, former Mubarak soldier who is displeased with Morsi, she writes.
“As the ship of state threatens to sink, Morsi is trying to drag out the dialogue until the middle of next week, when the month of Ramadan begins. If he succeeds in buying time, he assesses that his rule will survive,” she writes, but warns that if he does hold onto power, he will have to make concessions to the crowd.