Morsi Defiant as Army Deadline Looms, Death Toll Mounts in Egypt

By Patrick Goodenough | July 2, 2013 | 11:21 PM EDT

Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi demonstrate in Nasser City, Cairo on Monday, July 1, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

( – As clashes between opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi continue in Cairo overnight, a deadline set by the army for politicians to resolve the crisis draws nearer, with no sign that it is likely to be met.

The death toll from clashes near Cairo University has mounted steadily, with the health ministry reporting first three deaths, then six, then 16, then 22, along with at least 200 injuries.

The ministry said a march by Morsi supporters had come under fire from unidentified gunmen; other reports said security forces were involved in the violence.

In a late-night television appearance, Morsi defied opponents’ calls for him to step down and call snap elections, vowing to safeguard “with my life” the legitimacy of the democratic process under which he took office a year ago.

He also called on the army to withdraw an earlier warning that if the country’s politicians do not resolve the deadlock in 48 hours, it will intervene to impose a “roadmap” for the country’s future. That ultimatum expires around mid- to late-afternoon Wednesday (mid- to late-morning U.S. eastern time).

The anti-Morsi “Rebel” movement responded to Morsi's comments with a statement pledging to take to the streets “in our millions, starting on Wednesday, so that he and his group hear the voice of the great Egyptian people.”

Several hours after Morsi’s appearance, a statement posted on an armed forces’ Facebook site said the army pledged to “sacrifice our blood for Egypt and its people against every terrorist, extremist or ignorant person,” Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

“The General Commander of the armed forces has said that it is more honorable for us to die than for the Egyptian people to feel threatened or terrorized,” it said, without elaborating on which elements were deemed to be doing the terrorizing.

The armed forces commander is Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, who nine days ago first warned that the military may be required to intervene in the political process amid the deepening rift between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its opponents.

Sisi issued that warning ahead of planned mass demonstrations by Egyptians demanding Morsi’s resignation, new presidential elections and the suspension of the controversial new constitution. They began on Sunday, in Cairo and elsewhere in the country, and have continued since.

The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, urged its supporters to launch counter-demonstrations in support of the president. On Tuesday the Islamist group reported on its website that “additional tens of thousands rushed to join mass rallies in liberty squares of the governorates of Egypt to support democracy and the legitimacy of the elected president, while hundreds of thousands gathered in Nahda Square in Cairo, as new coalitions were launched to support and defend democratic legitimacy.”

After President Obama spoke by phone to Morsi, the State Department denied reports that the administration has urged the Egyptian leader to call early presidential elections.

Asked whether the U.S. still considers Morsi to be Egypt’s democratically-elected president, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the position had not changed.

She said Obama had made clear to Morsi, as had Secretary of State John Kerry in a call to his Egyptian counterpart, that “we’re not taking sides in this case and that it’s not up to us, the United States, to make choices here.”

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo announced it will remain shut for a fourth consecutive day on Wednesday.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow