Egypt on the edge after Mursi rebuffs army ultimatum

CAIRO - President Mohamed Mursi rebuffed an army ultimatum to force a resolution to Egypt's political crisis, saying on Tuesday that he had not been consulted and would pursue his own plans for national reconciliation.

But the Islamist leader looked increasingly isolated, with ministers resigning, the liberal opposition refusing to talk to him and the armed forces, backed by millions of protesters in the street, giving him until Wednesday to agree to share power.

Newspapers across the political spectrum saw the army's 48-hour deadline as a turning point. "Last 48 hours of Muslim Brotherhood rule," the opposition daily El Watan declared. "Egypt awaits the army," said the state-owned El Akhbar.

The confrontation has pushed the most populous Arab nation closer to the brink amid a deepening economic crisis two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, raising concern in Washington, Europe and neighboring Israel.

Protesters remained encamped overnight in Cairo's central Tahrir Square and protest leaders called for another mass rally on Tuesday evening to try to force the president out.

Senior members of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood used the word "coup" to describe the military ultimatum, backed by a threat that the generals will otherwise impose their own road map for the nation.

In a statement issued nine hours after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delighted Mursi's opponents by effectively ordering the president to heed the demands of demonstrators, the president's office used considerably less direct language to indicate he would go his own way.

"The president of the republic was not consulted about the statement issued by the armed forces," it said. "The presidency sees that some of the statements in it carry meanings that could cause confusion in the complex national environment.

"The presidency confirms that it is going forward on its previously plotted path to promote comprehensive national reconciliation ... regardless of any statements that deepen divisions between citizens."

The Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said the Egyptian people alone had the right to draw a roadmap for the nation and had done so in the constitution approved in a referendum last December.

It called on the people "to rally to defend constitutional legitimacy and express their refusal of any coup against it."

Describing civilian rule as a great gain from the revolution of 2011, Mursi said he would not let the clock be turned back. Egypt's first freely elected leader, he has been in office for just a year. But many Egyptians are impatient with his economic management and inability to win the trust of non-Islamists.

Mursi also spoke to U.S. President Barack Obama by phone on Monday, the presidency said in a separate statement, stressing that Egypt was moving forward with a peaceful democratic transition based on the law and constitution.

The White House said Obama, visiting Tanzania, encouraged him to respond to the protests and "underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process".

RESIGNATIONS

Six ministers who are not members of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood have tendered their resignations since Sunday's huge demonstrations, including foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, the official MENA news agency said.

In another blow to the president, Egypt's top appeals court on Tuesday upheld the dismissal of the prosecutor general appointed by Mursi last year. He was a major bugbear to the liberal opposition.

The court decision removed public prosecutor Talaat Abdallah, accused of using his position to pursue journalists, artists and critics of the president while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses. It reinstated his predecessor.

The ruling contributed to a sense that Mursi's administration is disintegrating even as he clings to office.

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