CAIRO — Egypt's military gave a "last-chance" ultimatum Monday to President Mohammed Morsi: In 48 hours meet the demands of millions of protesters in the streets calling for his ouster, or the generals will intervene and impose their own plan for the country.
The military's statement, read on state TV, put enormous pressure on Morsi to step down. Giant crowds demanding his departure in cities around the country for a second straight day erupted into delirious parties of celebration, with men and women dancing, and some crying as patriotic songs blasted from speakers on cars.
But any move against Morsi after the deadline risks a backlash from his Islamist backers, including his powerful Muslim Brotherhood organization. Multiple officials of the Brotherhood insisted that the military and street protests cannot overturn the legitimacy of his election last year. "Any coup of any kind against legitimacy will only pass over our dead bodies," one leading Brotherhood figure, Mohammed el-Beltagi, said at a rally in Cairo.
The army's stance also raises an unsettling prospect for many of Morsi's opponents: the potential return of the military that ruled Egypt directly for nearly 17 months after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011. Many of those now in the anti-Morsi campaign led protests against military rule, angered by its management of the transition and heavy hand, including killings of protesters.
"Morsi will leave, but I'm concerned with the plan afterward," said Roshdy Khairy, a 24-year-old doctor among the throngs in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Monday night. "The military should be a tool to pressure, but we had a bitter experience with military ruling the country and we don't want to repeat it."
Hours after its announcement, the military issued a second statement on its Facebook page denying it intended a coup. In its initial statement, the military said it would "announce a road map for the future and measures to implement it" if Morsi and his opponents cannot reach a consensus within 48 hours.
The military underlined it will "not be a party in politics or rule." But it said it has a responsibility to find a solution because Egypt's national security is facing a "grave danger."
It did not detail the road map, but it heavily praised the massive protests that began on Sunday demanding that Morsi step down and that early elections be called. The statement called the protests "glorious," saying the participants expressed their opinion "in peaceful and civilized manner."
Morsi met Monday with military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, according to the president's Facebook page, without giving details. Associated Press calls to spokespeople for the presidency were not answered.
In a sign of Morsi's growing isolation, five Cabinet ministers said on Monday they had resigned, the state news agency said. The five are the ministers of communications, legal affairs, environment, tourism and water utilities, MENA reported.
The governor of the strategic province of Ismailia on the Suez Canal, Hassan el-Rifaai, also quit.
The swiftness of the military's statement suggested it was prompted by the stunning turnout by the opposition on Sunday — and the eruptions of violence that point to how the confrontation could spiral into chaos.
At least 16 people were killed Sunday and more than 780 injured, Health Ministry spokesman Yehya Moussa told state TV.
Sunday's protests were the largest seen in Egypt in the 2½ years of turmoil since protesters first rose up against Mubarak in January 2011. Millions packed Tahrir Square, the streets outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace and main squares in cities around the country on the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration.
On Monday, President Barack Obama called for all sides to refrain from violence and said Morsi and his opponents should work to resolve the unrest.
The crowds turned out again Monday across the country — in slightly smaller numbers, but in a more uproariously joyous mood after the military's announcement. The group organizing the protests, Tamarod, Arabic for "Rebel," issued an ultimatum of its own, giving Morsi until this afternoon to step down or it would escalate the rallies further.