(Reuters) – Egypt’s armed forces handed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi a virtual ultimatum to share power on Monday, giving feuding politicians 48 hours to compromise or have the army impose its own roadmap for the country.
A dramatic military statement broadcast on state television declared the nation was in danger after millions of Egyptians took to the streets on Sunday to demand that Mursi quit and the headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were ransacked.
Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago as the Arab Spring revolutions took hold, the Arab world’s most populous nation has remained in turmoil, arousing concern amongst allies in the West and in Israel, with which Egypt has had a peace treaty since 1979.
Mursi’s backers were furious at the military statement: “The age of military coups is over,” said Yasser Hamza of the Brotherhood parliamentary wing.
But it provoked delight among liberal leaders and crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, who cheered when a flight of military helicopters swooped overhead trailing national flags. Silhouetted against the sunset, it was a powerful illustration of the military’s desire to be seen in tune with the people.
“If the demands of the people are not realised within the defined period, it will be incumbent upon (the armed forces) … to announce a road map for the future,” chief-of-staff General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in the statement that was followed by patriotic music.
The people had expressed their will with unprecedented clarity in the mass demonstrations and wasting more time would only increase the danger of division and strife, he said.
The army said it would oversee the implementation of the roadmap it sought “with the participation of all factions and national parties, including young people”, but it would not get directly involved in politics or government.
Anti-Mursi demonstrators outside the presidential palace cheered the army statement, and the main opposition National Salvation Front, which has demanded a national unity government for months, applauded the military’s move. The army is held in high regard, especially after it helped topple Mubarak.
On Cairo’s Tahrir Square, thousands were celebrating the army’s move: “We want a new armed forces council to govern until new elections,” said accountant Mohamed Ibrahim, 50. “The army alone supports the legitimate revolutionary will of the people.”
“The invitation to meet the demands of the people within the next few hours is a historic opportunity which should not be lost,” said Amr Moussa, a liberal politician and former foreign minister who stood in last year’s presidential election.
There was no immediate reaction from the president’s office.