Egypt's Military May Have Just Threatened a Coup

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The massive protests that overwhelmed Egypt the last two days have created a political crisis that may inadvertently put an end to the promise of democracy. The head of Egypt's military issued a statement on Monday insisting that if President Mohammed Morsi doesn't come up with a solution to the current crisis in the next 48 hours, the army will impose a "roadmap for the future." It's a vague and open-ended threat that some are suggesting is tantamount to pre-announcing a coup d'état.

The statement, which was read on television by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, does not say exactly what Morsi must do to avoid such an intervention, or what exactly the consequences would be if he can't. It is not an explicit demand for Morsi's resignation, but the statement does say it is necessary for him to "meet the people's demands" and at this point, resignation is exactly what they want. Protesters have called for Morsi to resign by the end of the day on Tuesday, and several cabinet ministers have already done so in support of the movement.

"The Armed Forces repeats its call to respond to the people's demands and  give everyone a 48-hour deadline to carry the burden of these historic  circumstances. [The Armed Forces] won't tolerate anyone doing less than  what's needed to carry their responsibility."

No matter which direction the president chooses, the crisis has provided an opportunity for the military to once again assume command of the country, just as they did following the deposing of Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (or SCAF) took over the governing power of Egypt following Mubarak's resignation and held on to it for more than year, until a replacement could be elected. Their authoritarian presence angered many Egyptians, who felt one dictator had simply been replaced by another. Then they got Morsi and now they hate him and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party even more, as seen by the sacking their offices on Sunday. 

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Now Morsi is equally unliked, but removing him power could be seen a major step backwards for the revolution. After all, Morsi — as he is quick to point out — was democratically elected. If he can be forced out by violent protests or military order, then what kind of democracy does Egypt really have? The people want him gone, but are they willing to do so at the cost of giving power back to a military that can order a president around? The world now waits for his answer.

You can watch the ongoing protests live in Tahrir Square right here.

Update, 4:45 p.m. Eastern: Don't call it a coup.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.