Understanding Egyptian military's role in unrest as Morsi deadline expires

It was what protestors called a “Tuesday of persistence” yesterday in Egypt, as the imminent deadline for military intervention in the country’s demonstrations hangs over Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The protests began on Sunday—the anniversary of Morsi’s election— with military helicopters monitoring overhead, but have since become violent, resulting in an ultimatum by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which gives Morsi another 24 hours to quell the violent clash before military involvement.

"We thought SCAF handed over Egypt to the MB, but it appears they actually handed the MB over to Egypt, ‬‬” tweeted @Bassem_Sabry, a writer on Egypt and political consultant.

But according to a GlobalPost report, the political opposition, led by the grassroots Tamarod, did not want to wait until the Wednesday deadline.

“We give Mohamed Morsi until 5:00 pm on Tuesday July 2 to leave power, allowing state institutions to prepare for early presidential elections," the Tamarod movement stated on their website, adding that 5:00 pm on Tuesday would mark the beginning of complete civil disobedience.

Morsi rejected the ultimatum, and the military has prepared to take to the streets if necessary. Both parties have pledged to sacrifice life for Egypt's people — a standoff Morsi may not have predicted.

Islam Altayeb, a Middle East Analyst working in Egypt for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the military’s challenge may have come as a surprise to the Egyptian president, who “would perceive the army’s 48-hour ultimatum as a backstab by the army given his praise of military establishment since his elections in 2012.”

Indeed, in a February 2013 speech, Morsi declared "there could never be disagreement between the armed forces and the presidency because the president and the armed forces are not two factions, they are one."

While Morsi enjoyed electoral legitimacy, which the military facilitated, to rule the country, Altayeb said, the army has never been out of the political scene in Egypt. In fact, she added, they will continue to play a major role in Egypt’s politics as they have been over the past two years.

The question for many is what kind of role the military will play in the current civil rupture.

If the military were to remove Morsi by force, one senior European diplomat said, the international community would have no choice but to condemn the ousting of a democratically elected president.

“Pushing out an unpopular elected president by the military will be setting a dangerous precedent in post-Mubarak democratic Egypt,” Altayeb said.

The United Nations Human Rights called on Morsi earlier this week to set the table for “serious national dialogue” and to avoid any action that could “undermine democratic processes.” Some Egyptians believe that this is precisely the call that the military’s deadline was trying to make, as well.

“From the surface, it [the ultimatum] appears to be positive and optimistic,” Freedom and Justice Party member Abdul Mawgoud Dardery said in a live interview with Christiane Amanpour.

Dardery told Amanpour that many believe the army is intervening with the intent to protect democracy and “the will of the people.”

“Egypt is going through a difficult democratic period, but it will be successful if we can all come together for a national dialogue,” he said.

Still, Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Reuters “the army ultimatum had hardened positions on either side, making it very difficult to find a constitutional way out of the crisis.”

"It will have to override the constitution and wage a full coup," Shimy said to Reuters, echoing the concern of the UN Human Rights Office. "Things could deteriorate very rapidly from there, either through confrontations on the street, or international sanctions.”

With the deadline set to pass and 16 more deaths reported overnight, protestors are calling it "game over" for Morsi.