Embattled Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi rebuffed an army ultimatum to force a resolution to Egypt's political crisis, saying Tuesday that he had not been consulted and would pursue his own plans for national reconciliation.
The Islamist leader described as potentially confusing Monday's 48-hour deadline set by the head of the armed forces for him to agree on a common platform with liberal rivals who have drawn millions into the streets demanding Morsi's resignation.
Members of his Muslim Brotherhood have used the word "coup" to describe the military maneuver, which carries the threat of the generals imposing their own road map for the nation.
But in a statement issued at nearly 2 A.M., fully nine hours after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delighted Morsi'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 try to take little notice.
"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."
Official video was released showing Morsi meeting the uniformed Sisi. Their body language seemed awkward, although it was unclear when it was shot.
The statement from Mursi's office continued, "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."
Describing civilian rule as a great gain from the revolution of 2011, Egypt's first freely elected leader, in office for just a year, said he would not let the clock be turned back.
But in referring to his plans for reconciliation as those he had spelt out before, he was speaking of offers that have already been rejected by the opposition, leaving it improbable that such compromises would bear fruit before Sisi's deadline.
Justice minister denies reports cabinet resigned
Egypt's justice minister denied an al-Arabiya television report that the government had resigned on Tuesday after the armed forces gave Morsi the ultimatum.
"The government has not submitted its resignation and whathas been raised on that matter is not true," Justice Minister Ahmed Suleiman told reporters after a meeting of the rump cabinet under Prime Minister Hisham Kandil.
Six ministers who are not members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood submitted their resignations on Monday, and the official MENA news agency said the ministers of defense and the interior did not attend the cabinet session.
Obama urges Morsi to respond to protesters' demands
The White House said Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama called embattled Morsi to convey concerns about mass protests against the Egyptian leader's regime and urged him to respond to issues raised by the demonstrators.
The U.S. president "told President Morsi that the United States is committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group," the White House said.
"President Obama encouraged President Morsi to take steps to show that he is responsive to their concerns, and underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process," it said in a statement.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to his counterpart al-Sisi on Monday, although it was unclear what was said.
The United Nations human rights office on Tuesday also called on Morsi's government to listen to the demands of the Egyptian people and engage in a "serious national dialogue" to defuse the crisis.
Rupert Colville, spokesman of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, also said the role of the Egyptianmilitary was crucial. "Nothing should be done that would undermine democratic processes," he told a briefing
A sense of disintegration in the administration since the protests on Sunday has been heightened by the resignations tendered by several ministers who are not members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. On Tuesday, the state news agency said the foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, had also asked to step down..
Attacks on Brotherhood offices have added to feelings among Islamists that they are under siege.
Some Brotherhood leaders, who swept a series of votes last year, said they would look to put their own supporters on the streets. After the destruction of the Brotherhood's headquarters in a battle overnight on Monday in which eight people were killed, the possibility of wider violence seems real.
The coalition that backed Sunday's protests said there was no question of it negotiating now with Morsi on the general's timetable and it was already formulating its positions for discussion directly with the army once the 48 hours are up.
Sisi, in his broadcast statement, insisted that he had the interests of democracy at heart - a still very flawed democracy that Egyptians have been able to practise as a result of the army pushing aside Hosni Mubarak in the face of a popular uprising.
That enhanced the already high standing of the army among Egyptians, and the sight of military helicopters streaming national flags over Cairo's Tahrir Square at sunset, after Sisi had laid down the law, sent huge crowds into a frenzy of cheers.
But on the other side of Egypt's polarized politics, a Brotherhood spokesman said it might considering forming "self-defense" committees after a series of attacks on its premises.
Another leading figure in the movement, Mohamed El-Beltagy, said: "The coming period will witness an alignment between all the Islamist forces. Their sons will be called on to demonstrate in all streets and squares of the country."
Among Morsi's allies are groups with more militant pasts, including al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a sometime associate of Al-Qaida, whose men fought Mubarak's security forces for years and who have warned they would not tolerate renewed military rule.
An alliance of Islamist groups, including the Brotherhood, issued a cautious joint statement that avoided criticizing the army but spoke of it being manipulated by rival parties.
Some Islamist groups, notably the Salafi Nour Party, which came second only to the Brotherhood in parliamentary elections last year, have spoken in favour of dialogue.
But scope for compromise between Morsi and his liberal critics appears narrow without the army imposing a deal.
Morsi has said he favors moving to elections for a new parliament that would give the opposition more say - if, as he points out, it has popular support. But the opposition, convinced the Brotherhood is out to entrench its rule forever, does not trust Morsi and wants to wipe clean a messy slate of institutional reforms since 2011 before holding a vote.
To that end, liberal coalition leaders, represented in negotiations by former UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, are pushing for the senior judge on the constitutional court to replace Mursi as head of state for an interim period, while technocrats - and generals - would administer the country.
How far Sisi is prepare to push Morsi is not clear. Despite a hard line being taken by opposition leaders, some compromise in which Morsi was given time to lead the country, or perhaps to call a referendum on finishing his term, might be possible.
A military source said Sisi was keen not to repeat the experience of the year and a half between Mubarak's fall and Morsi's election, when a committee of generals formed a government that proved unpopular as the economy struggled.
The army's preference would appear to be for a more hands-off approach, supervising government but not running it.
For many Egyptians, fixing the economy is key. Unrest since Mubarak fell has hobbled tourism and investment and the state finances are in poor shape, drained by extensive subsidy regimes and struggling to provide regular supplies of fuel.
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