Egypt awaits military statement as deadline passes

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi talks to army and opposition as troops congregate in districts of Cairo

Egyptians are awaiting a televised statement by the military leadership, after a deadline set by the army for a resolution to the country’s political crisis passed.

Egypt’s military chief was locked in talks with senior commanders and opposition figures several hours before the expiration of the deadline he gave Mohamed Morsi.

Troops gathered in large numbers in some districts of Cairo ahead of the 4.30pm ultimatum, which could herald a momentous decision for both men and the rival crowds of supporters that have taken to the streets of the capital.

Morsi has suggested he will not resign despite immense pressure to do so from the military and a near absence of support from the rest of the security establishment.

The powerful interior ministry, which runs Egypt’s police forces, said it would stand with the army against “all forms of violence”.

As the hours ticked away before General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s expected statement on Wednesday, Morsi remained bunkered down in Cairo under the protection of the presidential guard.

An aide to Morsi on Wednesday reiterated the president’s claims that he had repeatedly offered meaningful concessions to the country’s opposition and said that the political leadership could not control a combustible street [crowd] if he were forced from office.

The aide said: “Two things must happen. The date for parliamentary elections must be set immediately and the opposition has to be represented in a meaningful way in a coalition government.

“The position of the president is that a disaster awaits us all behind the other door. I think everyone involved in moving in the direction of a coup has miscalculated the mood of the street.

“I hope the military realise that after last night that it is no longer our decision. The crowd at the Rabaa mosque [where 100,000 pro-Morsi supporters have gathered in recent days] is not going to move, and that’s going to lead to violence.

“People really need to come to their senses and realise that the crowd dynamics can’t be controlled by the political leaders. Even if the president went to Rabaa and told them to go home – they will just lose respect for him. There will be a militant spillover that will last decades.”

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, reportedly met Sisi early on Wednesday. Reuters said the opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, had urged the military to intervene to “stop bloodshed”.

In a harbinger of unrest that could potentially follow, about 16 people were killed on Tuesday night in clashes between both camps in several districts of Cairo.

Outside the Rabaa Adawiya mosque in east Cairo, which has become a focal point ground-zero for Morsi supporters, the mood on Wednesday was defiant.

At midday prayers, worshippers chanted, “the people demand the law of God”, a linguistic inversion of the popular revolutionary chant “the people demand the fall of the regime”.

Ahmed Shumal, an accountant, said: “If the army come here, we’ll die here. If we’re not free, it’s the same as being dead.”

Adil Shazly, a civil servant, said: “We will not allow the army to take over.”

An army brigade had, in recent days, occupied a nearby car park. “So what if they come? We’ll do what we have to do. This is supposed to be a democracy. When four years are up you can go back to the ballot box.”

But despite the defiance, the crowd was smaller than the 100,000 at the rally’s peak last week. The preacher urged those still there not to leave. “Today or tomorrow we will witness a victory,” he said. “We will lose some martyrs, we will win and we will rule this country.”

In Tahrir Square, which has again become the epicentre of an anti-government revolt, crowds were steadily building throughout the day before Sisi’s expected decision. It is not clear whether he will use a television speech or a statement to announce his move, which could either be a demand that Morsi stand down, or that he offer compromises that meet the terms of the military and opposition.

Both sides have so far failed to find common ground during discussions that have focused on five key themes: the formation of a national unity government, the nomination of an independent prime minister, early elections, a committee of civilian legal experts to redraft the constitution, and the naming of an independent public prosecutor. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds