Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi “is no longer a part of the decision-making circle,” the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper said Wednesday, citing “a senior official source.”
“The president is no longer able to make any political decisions now and a decision has been taken to prevent leaders loyal to the current regime from traveling overseas until the General Command of the Armed Forces are finished formulating their expected statement,” it added.
The announcement came less than two hours after the nation’s first democratically elected president offered to form an interim coalition government and as one of his aides and a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said it appeared that a military coup was under way.
“The presidency’s vision includes the formation of a coalition government that would manage the upcoming parliamentary electoral process, and the formation of an independent committee for constitutional amendments to submit to the upcoming parliament,” Morsi said in a posting on his Facebook page.
He noted that hundreds of thousands of supporters and protesters had packed plazas around the country.
“One of the mistakes I cannot accept — as the president of all Egyptians — is to side with one party over another, or to present the scene from one side only. To be fair, we need to listen to the voice of people in all squares.”
He urged that his countrymen be allowed to express their opinions through the ballot box.
The posting came as protesters packed public spaces around the country to demonstrate their opposition to and support of his government. But whether his statement would stave off military intervention was not immediately clear.
As night fell Wednesday, Egyptian deployed across parts of Cairo and surrounded a pro-Morsi demonstration at a Cairo mosque.
The president himself was said to be working from a complex belonging to the country’s Republican Guard, across the street from the presidential palace, according to Egyptian state media. Reuters reported that troops were setting up barricades around that facility.
An aide to Morsi, Essam El Haddad, said in a Facebook posting that a coup was under way.
“For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: military coup,” said El Haddad, who works in the office of the assistant to the president on foreign relations.
“Today, only one thing matters. In this day and age, no military coup can succeed in the face of sizable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?”
He added, “In a democracy, there are simple consequences for the situation we see in Egypt: The president loses the next election or his party gets penalized in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Anything else is mob rule.”
And a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad El-Haddad, described what was happening as a “full military coup.”
“Tanks hv started moving thru the streets,” he said in a Twitter posting.
But Naguib Abadeer, a member of the opposition Free Egyptians Party, said what was under way “is not by any means a military coup. This is a revolution.”
“The people have decided that Mr. Morsi was no longer the legitimate leader of Egypt,” he told CNN.
Abadeer said Morsi lost his legitimacy in November, when he declared courts could not review his decrees and ousted the country’s prosecutor-general. And he said Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood “hijacked the vote of the people” by running on a religious platform, “so these were not democratic elections.”
On Tuesday night, Morsi had vowed that he would not comply with an ultimatum delivered Monday by the military demanding that he enter into a power-sharing agreement.
“If the price of upholding this legitimacy is my own blood, I am, therefore, ready to sacrifice my blood for this country and its stability,” he said.
He demanded the military withdraw its ultimatum and return to its barracks.
Reports of a TV studio takeover
Reuters and several other news organizations reported that Egyptian troops had “secured the central Cairo studios of state television” as the deadline approached and that staff not working on live shows had departed.
CNN has not confirmed the reports; state television denied in an on-air banner that there was any additional military presence at its studios.
Massive demonstrations for and against the former Muslim Brotherhood leader who was elected to office a year ago have been largely peaceful.
But 23 people died, health officials said, and hundreds more were injured in clashes overnight at Cairo University, the state-funded Al-Ahram news agency reported.
Protest leaders have called for nonviolence.
Egypt’s military met Wednesday with religious, national, political and youth leaders to address the crisis, Egyptian military spokesman Ahmed Ali said through his Facebook page.
Hours earlier, an opposition spokesman accused the United States of propping up Morsi out of concern for neighboring Israel.
“The hour of victory is coming,” said Mahmoud Badr of the Tamarod opposition group. He predicted that the “illegitimate president” would be gone by the end of the day.
“Not America, not Morsi, not anyone can impose their will on the Egyptian people,” Badr said.
With the ultimatum, the armed forces appeared to have thrown their weight behind those opposed to Morsi’s Islamic government.
Early Wednesday, soldiers and police set up a perimeter around the opposition’s central meeting point, Cairo’s Tahrir Square, “to secure it from any possible attack,” the state-run EgyNews agency reported.
It was the police who, on the same spot in 2011, killed hundreds when they fired upon democratic, moderate and Islamic demonstrators seeking to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, the country’s longtime autocratic leader and U.S. ally.
Mubarak had repressed the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political movement that emerged as the nation’s most powerful political force once Mubarak was ousted.
At a pro-democracy protest in Cairo, demonstrators expressed anger and fear over what the coming hours could bring.
A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Addad, told CNN that tanks and armored vehicles — accompanied by thugs carrying knives, pistols and ammunition — had been moved to the northern and southern entrances of the square in an apparent attempt to drive them out.
The military fired warning shots into the air, and shot one Muslim Brotherhood member in the leg, el-Addad said, but the remaining protesters were standing in defiance in front of the tanks.
Some of the protesters oppose Morsi but also oppose pushing from power a democratically elected leader, he said. “Under no circumstances will we ever accept a military-backed coup,” he said.
But many of the democratic reformers and moderates who accused Morsi’s government of moving in an authoritarian direction now support former Mubarak allies and others fed up with the nation’s direction in calling for the restoration of order through the military.
They have been pushing to oust Morsi and his Muslim conservative government, whose leaders were drawn primarily from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. They say they have collected more than 20 million signatures on a petition to remove him — millions more than the number who voted Morsi into the presidency.
In recent days, anti-Morsi demonstrators have ransacked Muslim Brotherhood offices all over the country.
The military’s plans
Military leaders have told Arab media that they were planning to suspend the constitution, dissolve the parliament and sideline Morsi.
In his place, they would install a mainly civilian interim council until a new constitution can be drafted and a new president elected.
The military’s ultimatum was intended to push all factions toward a national consensus, not to seize power through a coup, a spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali, said Monday in a written statement.
The military appeared to be pressuring Morsi to reduce the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and include opposition members, a source close to highly placed members of Egypt’s leadership told CNN.
That restructuring was already happening. Five of Morsi’s ministers resigned this week, including Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
And former Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud will meet Thursday with the Supreme Judicial Council to be confirmed in the job.
Mahmoud had originally been installed in the job by Mubarak, shortly before he left. One of the goals during the 2011 revolution had been to oust him, which Morsi did through last November’s constitutional declarations.
Mahmoud’s return appeared to signify a shrinking of Morsi’s power and a tilt toward Mubarak-era officials over Muslim Brotherhood loyalists.
In addition, 30 members of the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, have resigned, state-run Nile TV reported.
Morsi defends his presidency
Morsi’s numerous and adamant supporters point out that he is the legitimate president and say that opponents seeking to depose him are circumventing the democratic process.
The unrest prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to call Morsi on Monday and urge a less rigid stance. “He stressed that democracy is about more than elections,” a White House statement said.
A White House official told CNN that Obama was briefed on the situation in Egypt on Wednesday by his national security staff.
The Obama administration appeared to be giving mixed signals on where it stands. On Tuesday, Obama called on Morsi to hold early elections, a senior administration official said.
“We are saying to him, ‘Figure out a way to go for new elections,'” the official said. “That may be the only way that this confrontation can be resolved.”
A State Department spokeswoman, however, denied that Obama urged early elections.
Though Muslim Brotherhood leaders have called members to refrain from bloodshed, others have told them to be prepared to die.
And one Islamist group said it would take up arms if Morsi is deposed.
The Egyptian leader’s failings
Morsi, a U.S.-educated religious conservative, was elected president in June 2012. But his approval ratings have plummeted.
His government has failed to keep order as the economy has tanked and crime has soared, including open sexual assaults on women in Egypt’s streets. Chaos has driven away many tourists and investors.
That has disaffected many among Egypt’s poor and middle classes, said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
“The millions of Egyptians who cheered for Morsi are saying he must go,” Gerges said.
He called Morsi “incompetent” but said he doubted the military would depose him, adding that that would drive Egypt into an even deeper crisis.