CAIRO — As President Mohammed Morsi huddled in his guard's quarters during his last hours as Egypt's first elected leader, he received a call from an Arab foreign minister with a final offer to end a standoff with the country's top generals, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing unnamed senior advisers with the president.
The foreign minister said he was acting as an emissary of Washington, the advisers said, and he asked if Morsi would accept the appointment of a new prime minister and Cabinet, one that would take over all legislative powers and replace his chosen provincial governors.
The aides said they already knew what Morsi's answer would be. He had responded to a similar proposal by vowing to die before accepting what he considered a de facto coup and thus a crippling blow to Egyptian democracy.
His top foreign policy adviser, Essam el-Haddad, then left the room to call the U.S. ambassador, Anne Patterson, to say that Morsi refused. When he returned, he said that he had spoken to Susan Rice, the White House national security adviser, and that the military takeover was about to begin, senior aides said.
The State Department had no comment Saturday on the details of the U.S. role in Morsi's final days. Separately, President Barack Obama on Saturday reiterated that the United States is not aligned with and is not supporting any particular Egyptian political party or group and again condemned the ongoing violence across Egypt, the White House said in a statement.
The abrupt end of Egypt's first Islamist government was the culmination of months of escalating tensions and ultimately futile U.S. efforts to broker a solution that would keep Morsi in his elected office, at least in name if not in power. A new alliance of youthful activists and Mubarak-era elites was driving street protests. A collapsing economy put new pressure on Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, the once-outlawed Islamist group that had finally come to power after the ouster of the former president, Hosni Mubarak. And an alliance between Morsi and the nation's top generals was gradually unraveling.
Senior Brotherhood officials said Morsi's adamant response to the last proposal — a combination of idealism and stubbornness — epitomized his rule. It may also have doomed his presidency.
Morsi never believed the generals would turn on him as long as he respected their autonomy and privileges, his advisers said. He had been the Muslim Brotherhood's designated envoy for talks with the ruling military council after the ouster of Mubarak. His counterpart on the council was Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The Brotherhood was naturally suspicious of the military, its historical opponent, but Sissi cultivated Morsi and other leaders, one of them said, including going out of his way to show that he was a pious Muslim.
The two grew so close that Morsi caught his advisers by surprise when he promoted Sissi to defense minister last summer as part of a deal that persuaded the military for the first time to let the elected president take full control of his government.
But the generals' exit, however, only redoubled the criticism from Morsi's opponents that the Islamists were monopolizing power. Morsi failed to broaden his appeal among the sectarian opposition amid complaints that he and the Brotherhood were monopolizing power. And when the protests took off last fall, Sissi signaled that his departure from politics might not be permanent.
Without consulting Morsi, the general publicly invited all the country's fractious political factions — from social democrats to ultraconservative sheiks — to a meeting to try to hammer out a compromise on a more inclusive government. Morsi quashed the idea, advisers said, to avoid drawing the generals back into politics.
Sissi said publicly last week that he continued after that to try to broker some compromise with the opposition and to ease the political polarization. It was at that point, Morsi's advisers say, that they first suspected Sissi of intrigue.
Morsi, they say, often pressed Sissi to stop unnamed military officials from making threatening or disparaging statements toward the president in the news media. Sissi merely that said newspapers and media exaggerate, and that he was trying to control the tensions toward the president inside the military, one adviser said.
Yet Morsi insisted to his aides that he remained fully confident that Sissi would not interfere, almost until the end of his presidency. He was the last one in the inner circle to acknowledge last week that Sissi was ousting them.