Egyptian Military's Ultimatum To Morsi Welcomed By Protesters

Egypt's military issued an ultimatum to that country's Islamist president on Monday. It warned Mohammed Morsi — and the many protesters who are seeking his ouster — that they have 48 hours to reach an agreement.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. Egypt's military issued an ultimatum to that country's Islamist president today. It warned Mohammed Morsi and the many protesters who are seeking his ouster that they have 48 hours to reach an agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

CORNISH: The military read this terse statement on Egyptian state TV, saying if the two sides fail to reach a compromise, the armed forces will step in with what it called a roadmap for running the country. There was no immediate comment from President Morsi or his government, but the statement was welcomed by protestors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING AND HORNS)

CORNISH: They flooded the streets of Cairo and elsewhere for a second day of mass demonstrations. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo and joins us now. And Soraya, why do these protesters want President Morsi to step down?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, the protesters who represent a variety of spheres or echelons of Egyptian society - I mean, we're talking about poor people, we're talking about rich people, we're talking about educated and uneducated - but all of them have similar complaints and concerns, and that is that the economy is stagnant or faltering, in fact. Their quality of life has gone down tremendously in the past year.

And at the same time, they feel that this president, Mohammed Morsi, and his government are all about entrenching or enshrining the Islamist power. And they're a little concerned - or a lot concerned, actually, that the Muslim Brotherhood is having too much power here.

CORNISH: So what does the military plan to do exactly? Could this be viewed as a coup?

NELSON: Well, that's certainly how some people are viewing it. It's something that protesters would welcome. But it's also important to note that the military stepped back a little bit from its earlier statement with a Facebook message suggesting that they're planning to carry out the will of the people, this is not a coup, they do not do military coups, which of course, some historians might disagree.

We spoke with a retired Egyptian army general, Samas Saif al-Yasul(ph), by telephone earlier and he gave this interpretation. He's saying that the military will not or does not want to interfere in the political life in Egypt. They don't want to rule the country. But that their plan may be to create a presidential committee, if you will, on which a general would serve but it would be made up of other members, as well, and that this would rule the country - this committee would rule the country for a year or so.

CORNISH: You alluded to protesters being happy to have the military back in charge but weren't the ruling generals forced out a year ago after being widely criticized?

NELSON: Yes, absolutely, but it also shows the level of desperation that some of these protesters have reached. And it's also important to remember that despite the military's perhaps checkered past in the past year, they're still viewed here culturally as a strong supporter of Egyptian society. So, at this stage, I think people are having a little bit of selective memory, perhaps, but they really do want the military - or at least a large number seem to want the military to step in.

CORNISH: At this point, what, if anything, has been heard from Morsi's government?

NELSON: Mr. Morsi has not said anything, nor has the president's office released a statement as of yet. But what we're hearing from a presidential advisor is that they are monitoring the situation and that they say that if there is a coup that they don't think it could happen without the tacit support of the United States.

CORNISH: And lastly, protest leaders had set another deadline for President Morsi to step down. That deadline's tomorrow. What happens after that?

NELSON: Well, that deadline is probably going to be a little bit soft, although, there may be announcements tomorrow from the presidency. It's unclear at this point. But with that 48-hour deadline looming - the one that the army put up, I think that becomes the firmer one.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking with us from Cairo. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, Audie.

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