Cairo - Egypt was on edge on Tuesday following a
"last-chance" ultimatum the military issued to Mohammed Morsi, giving
the president and the opposition 48 hours to resolve the crisis in the country
or have the army step in with its own plan.
Protesters seeking the ouster of the Islamist president
remained camped out at Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the 2011
uprising, gearing up for a third day of anti-Morsi rallies.
Across town, Morsi's Islamist backers have hunkered down at
their own rally site, vowing to resist what they depict as a threat of a coup
against a legitimately elected president.
The military's ultimatum, read on Monday on state TV, put
enormous pressure on Morsi to step down and sent giant crowds opposing the
president in Cairo and other cities into delirious celebrations of singing,
dancing and fireworks.
But it also raised worries on both sides that the army could
take over outright as it did after the 2011 ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak
and raised the risk of a backlash from Morsi's Islamist backers, including his
powerful Muslim Brotherhood and hard-liners, some of whom once belonged to
armed militant groups.
Pro-Morsi marches numbering in the several thousands began
after nightfall Monday in a string of cities around the country, sparking
clashes in some places. An alliance of the Brotherhood and Islamists read a
statement at a televised conference calling on people to rally to prevent
"any attempt to overturn" Morsi's election a year ago.
A line of around 1 500 men with shields, helmets and sticks
- assigned with protecting the rally - stamped their feet in military-like
lines, singing, "Stomp our feet, raise a fire. Islam's march is coming".
After midnight, Morsi's office issued a statement saying a
"modern democratic state" was one of the main achievements of the
anti-Mubarak uprising, adding, "With all its force, Egypt will not allow
itself to be taken backward".
While not bluntly rejecting the ultimatum, it said Morsi was
still reviewing the military statement and that some parts of it "could
cause disturbances in the complicated national scene".