In a dramatic statement broadcast on state television, Egypt's military declared the nation was in danger after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand that President Mohamed Morsi quit and the headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were ransacked.
“If the demands of the people are not realised within the defined period, it will be incumbent upon (the armed forces)... to announce a roadmap for the future,” said the statement from chief-of-staff General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It was followed by patriotic music.
He said the people had expressed their will with unprecedented clarity in the mass demonstrations and wasting more time would only increase the danger of division and violence.
The army said it would oversee the implementation of the roadmap it sought “with the participation of all factions and national parties, including young people”, but it would not get directly involved in politics or government.
Hours before the announcement, protesters in Egypt stormed the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters, looting, setting floors alight and ransacking the building. They breached the walls of the six-storey luxury villa in the early hours of Monday morning.
They carted off furniture, files, rugs, blankets, air conditioning units and portraits of President Morsi. One protester emerged with a pistol and handed it over to a policeman outside.
Footage on local TV networks showed smashed windows, blackened walls and smoke billowing out of the fortified villa in the Muqatam district in eastern Cairo. A fire was still raging on one floor hours after the building was stormed. One protester tore down the Muslim Brotherhood sign from the building's front wall, while another hoisted Egypt's red, black and white flag out an upper-storey window and waved it in the air in triumph.
It was not immediately clear whether the Brotherhood supporters holed up inside fled. One witness account spoke of the gunmen running out of the building under the cover of heavy gunfire but another said they had fled through a back door.
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.
Organisers of anti-government protests which also saw millions of Egyptians flood the streets over the weekend have since issued Morsi an ultimatum - to step down by Tuesday afternoon or else their campaign would be increased even further.
By Monday afternoon, four cabinet ministers - for tourism, environment, parliament and telecoms - had reportedly resigned, according to an unnamed cabinet official.
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 when millions packed into 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 violence soon broke out in several parts of the country, often when marchers came under gunfire, apparently from Islamists. Health Ministry spokesman Yehya Moussa told state television that at least 16 people were killed and more than 780 injured.
Tamarod, Arabic for “Rebel,” issued a statement giving Morsi until 5pm (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 what they called “complete civil disobedience”.
Some uniformed policemen marched among protesters in Cairo and Alexandria, chanting "the police and the people are one", and several senior officers addressed the Tahrir Square crowd. 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 yesterday.
Morsi has remained defiant and said that he will not quit, arguing that street protests must not be allowed to remove an elected president, or else the same could happen to future presidents. Yet he has offered no concessions. His Islamist supporters, some of them hard-liners who belong to formerly armed militant groups, have vowed to defend him.
They have already demonstrated a willingness to unleash deadly force when protesters approached their positions, as clashes erupted across multiple cities on Sunday.
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