Protestors and the media began a countdown on Monday after Egyptian military commanders gave Muslim Brotherhood-backed president Mohammed Morsi a 48 hour ultimatum to resolve the current crisis as millions of demonstrators took to the streets for the second straight day.
The military's statement puts enormous pressure on Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. So far, the president has vowed he will remain in his position, but the opposition and crowds in the street -- who numbered in the millions nationwide on Sunday -- have made clear they will accept nothing less than his departure and a transition to early presidential elections.This is actually the second ultimatum by the military issued to Morsi- Defense minister Abdel Fatah el-Sisi had given the two sides a week to reach a power-sharing agreement that expired shortly before the demonstrations began on Sunday.
The military underlined it will "not be a party in politics or rule." But it said it has a responsibility to act because Egypt's national security is facing a "grave danger," according to the statement.
"The Armed Forces repeat its call for the people's demands to be met and give everyone 48 hours as a last chance to shoulder the burden of a historic moment for a nation that will not forgive or tolerate any party that is lax in shouldering its responsibility," it said.
It did not directly define "the people's demands," but said if they are not realized, the military is obliged to "announce a road-map for the future and the steps for overseeing its implementation, with participation of all patriotic and sincere parties and movements."
In a move that many anti-Morsi demonstrators view as tacit support from the army, military helicopters flying massive Egyptian flags circled low over Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday. An odd spectacle took place the night before as a low-flying formation flew over hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi demonstrators and dropped Egyptian flags into the crowd while their aircraft was illuminated by thousands of laser pointers from the crowd below [although lasers and aircraft pilots tend not to be a good combination- not sure if the laser show was an attempt to harm the pilots or those in the crowd thought it looked neat (which I gotta admit, it does)- NANESB!]
Unlike the ousting of Mubarak in 2011, involvement in the crisis by Egypt's military seems to be welcomed- to a degree- by the anti-government demonstrators. Since Morsi officially took office last year, there has been a sharp increase in attacks on the nation's Coptic Christian minority with authorities seen as complicit or actively participating in some attacks.
This week's demonstrations are also different from the 2011 uprising in that according to most estimates the number of people who turned out nationwide in Egypt this weekend to demand the departure of president Morsi dwarfed the crowds during the 2011 'Arab Spring' protests.
In the early morning hours on Monday, a crowd of protestors attacked the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, setting fires, throwing furniture out of windows and taking armloads of documents away after the buildings defenders fired birdshot at them.
Thousands of Islamists also gathered in mosques throughout Egypt to express their support for Morsi and prepare for confrontations ahead of this weekend's massive demonstrations.