Morsi faces tough challenge, deadline to step down

The organisers of anti-government protests that brought millions of Egyptians into the streets this weekend gave Islamist President Mohammed Morsi until Tuesday afternoon to step down or else it will hike up its campaign, as protesters overran and ransacked the headquarters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. In a sign of Morsi’s growing isolation, five Cabinet ministers met Monday to consider resigning their posts and joining the protest movement, the state news agency said. The meeting gathered the communications, legal affairs, environment, tourism and water utilities ministers, MENA reported.
The ultimatum issued Monday by Tamarod, the protest organisers, increases pressure on Morsi a day after the opposition’s massive show of force on the streets, with millions packing Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the streets outside the presidential palace and main squares in cities around the country on the anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration.
The main rallies in Cairo were largely peaceful, but deadly violence broke out in several parts of the country, often when marchers came under gunfire, apparently from Islamists. At least 16 people were killed and more than 780 injured, Health Ministry spokesman Yehya Moussa told state television.
Tamarod, Arabic for “Rebel,” issued a statement giving Morsi until 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Tuesday to step down and pave the way for early presidential elections or else it would bring the crowds back out, march on more palaces and launch “complete civil disobedience.” Protesters were already gearing up for new rallies Monday.
The group also called on the powerful military and the police to clearly state their support for the protesters. Police mostly stayed on the sidelines Sunday, and some officers have vowed they will not protect the Brotherhood. The army has sent reinforcements to bases on the outskirts of Cairo and other cities across the nation. Its chief, Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sisisi, had given Morsi and the opposition a week to work out their differences — a deadline that passed Sunday.
The call reflected opposition hopes that a sign from the military could tip the balance against Morsi and avert what could be a destabilizing standoff.
Morsi has said he will not quit, saying that street action must not be allowed to remove an elected president or else the same could happen to future presidents. At the same time, he has offered no concessions — though his opponents appear in no mood to accept anything short of his removal anyway. His Islamist supporters, some of them hard-liners who belong to formerly armed militant groups, have vowed to defend him.
Morsi’s critics view the Brotherhood headquarters as the seat of real power in Egypt, consistently claiming that the Islamist group’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie and his powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shater, actually call the shots behind Morsi. Morsi and Brotherhood officials have denied this and say they have tried to give opponents a greater voice, only to be spurned.
On Monday, anti-Morsi protesters were gearing up for a second day of demonstrations.

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