The military's 48-hour ultimatum to Egypt's rival political camps was condemned by supporters of embattled President Mohamed Morsi, who on late Monday night stepped up their protests and marches in support of Morsi's democratic legitimacy and against a perceived military coup.
Ongoing anti-Morsi demonstrations, meanwhile, generally welcomed the army's announcement, which many protesters saw as another step towards the realisation of their demands for the president's ouster.
Following the military's televised statement on Monday afternoon giving Egyptian political forces 48 hours to "meet the people's demands" – or be presented with a military-imposed "roadmap" for the country's political future –an army spokesman clarified that the statement was not intended to suggest a military coup, but was merely aimed at fostering reconciliation between the two camps.
Nonetheless, the newly-formed National Coalition for Legitimacy, led by the Muslim Brotherhood group (from whose ranks Morsi hails), denounced the military's statement on Monday night, stressing its "rejection of any attempt to turn the army against [democratic] legitimacy."
Islamists step up protests; Nour backs opposition
On Monday night, hours after the armed forces' statement, tens of thousands of Morsi supporters staged marches in several governorates in support of the president and against a perceived military coup.
As of 10pm, tens of thousands had taken to the streets for several pro-Morsi rallies in and outside the capital, while protesters at the main Islamist sit-in in Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square – hundreds of thousands strong – continued to demonstrate for the fourth consecutive day.
In Suez, violent clashes reportedly erupted between Morsi's supporters and opponents, Reuters reported, citing eyewitnesses.
Meanwhile, Egypt's Salafist Nour Party, which had earlier taken a neutral stance vis-à-vis the rival demonstrations, broke from the Islamist camp late Monday night by announcing its support for opposition demands for snap presidential polls.
Anti-Morsi camp hails military statement, activists concerned
Upon hearing the army's statement on Monday afternoon, anti-Morsi protesters arrayed in Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace, along with those in the governorates, cheered in celebration. Army helicopters hovered over Tahrir Square, throwing flags on the crowds below as they did the day before.
Outside the presidential palace, Ashraf Youssef, a middle-aged protester who works as a construction subcontractor, told Ahram Online that he supports the decision by the 'Rebel' campaign – an anti-Morsi signature drive – to give Morsi until 5pm Tuesday to respond to its demands.
He voiced fear that the Brotherhood would seek to employ violence as a pressure tactic during the 48-hour period set by the military. "The army statement gives the Muslim Brotherhood too much time to create chaos," he said.
Mahmoud Eissa, an anti-Morsi protester in Alexandria's district of Sidi Gaber, told Ahram Online that the army's statement made him "very happy."
"Morsi and his group have to leave; it is too late for any other concessions," he added.
For her part, a protester told Ahram Online she was happy with the statement as it would force President Morsi to make political concessions.
"We don't want to keep changing presidents," she said. "But now he will have to form a new government and give the people what they want."
In the Nile Delta city of Gharbiya, meanwhile, protesters cheered and raised Egyptian flags chanting, "We are with you, [Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah] El-Sisi," "The people and army are one hand" and "Down with Morsi," according to state news agency MENA.
On the streets of Gharbiya, people went out in motorbikes and cars, honking in celebration.
Many activists who frequent the squares, however, expressed dismay over the military's possible re-entry into Egyptian domestic politics.
Their concerns stem from the year and a half of military rule following Egypt's January 2011 revolution, which saw frequent clashes between protesters and army forces.
Opposition welcomes armed forces statement
The political opposition welcomed the army's statement, viewing it as a sign that the army had sided with demands for early presidential elections.
“The statement is telling President Mohamed Morsi to resign,” said Mahmoud Badr, spokesman of the anti-Morsi ‘Rebel’ campaign, which claims to have gathered 22 million signatures calling on the president to step down, and which was a key coordinator of the weekend’s massive anti-Morsi protests.
Badr added in a statement published on the campaign’s official Facebook page that “the army’s historic role is to take the side of the people.”Founding member of the opposition National Salvation Front umbrella group and ex-presidential candidate Amr Moussa called the statement "a historical opportunity that shouldn't be wasted."
For his part, Ahmed Fawzy, secretary-general of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, told Ahram Online that the opposition would not accept any concessions.
"Any cabinet reshuffle, change of prosecutor-general, or any decision by President Morsi other than his resignation is unacceptable," Fawzy claimed.
Fawzy refuted the possibility of the army's return to domestic politics, saying it had learnt its lesson during Egypt's post-revolution transitional phase.