CAIRO The Muslim Brotherhood early today called on its supporters to take to the streets to protect the "legitimacy" of President Mohammed Morsi after a second day of massive protests demanded the resignation of the country's first democratically elected president.
Within minutes of the Brotherhood issuing its summons, pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators reportedly clashed in Mahala in the Nile Delta, and pro-Morsi crowds were reported assembling in Giza, an impoverished Cairo district, to march on anti-Morsi protesters in Tahrir Square, a 10-minute walk away.
Pro-Morsi crowds also headed for the presidential palace, where tens of thousands of Morsi opponents have held sway for two days.
Gehad el-Haddad, the Brotherhood's spokesman, used his Twitter feed to urge Egyptians to "go to the streets all across the country in refusal of any attempted coup," a reference to the military's ultimatum, delivered Monday, giving the Morsi government and its opponents 48 hours to resolve their differences or the military would "intervene" in the conflict.
"We call for respect for the democratically elected choice of the ppl," el-Haddad tweeted.
The sudden appearance of Brotherhood supporters on the streets added new tension to a country already stretched taut by the gigantic outpouring of anti-Morsi sentiment that brought as many as 14 million people into the streets on Sunday, marking Morsi's first anniversary in office with demands that he resign.
The country's military added to that tension Monday when it had a statement read on state television setting the 48-hour deadline for a resolution and warning that if it were not met, the military would dictate a "road map" for a solution.
The statement set off jubilation among many in the crowds who thought the announcement meant Morsi would have to go. But the military did not say what its plan might require or what steps it would take to enforce it.
The call for Brotherhood supporters to take to the streets made clear that Morsi and his backers would not go quietly. Instead, they insisted that the process through which he was elected over 13 other candidates must be respected. It was a dramatic end to a 24-hour period that began with hundreds of thousands of protesters chanting, "Morsi ir-hal," Arabic for "leave."
In Cairo's Tahrir Square, in scenes reminiscent of the 2011 uprising that led to President Hosni Mubarak's fall, thousands celebrated as though Morsi had resigned. Car horns, fireworks and chants were at times deafening.
Some opposition leaders urged protesters to remain until Morsi resigned and was replaced in a transitional period by the military or in new elections. Others called for new elections, despite no clear alternative to Morsi.
Some denounced the prospect of military intervention, recalling the 18 months of military rule after Mubarak stepped down.
"We don't want to go through another transitional period under the military's rule. They have ruined the country," said Ahmed Maher, the leader of the 6th of April Movement, which helped to topple Mubarak.
With such divisions and a president unwilling to budge, Egypt appeared to have little choice but to wait until the 48 hours had passed and see what the military would do.
In its statement, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ruled the country for the period from Mubarak's resignation to Morsi's inauguration, did not say how the two sides were expected to reconcile within the deadline when they'd been unable to do so for the past year.
Would talks among Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the fractured opposition suffice? Or would it require a referendum or early presidential election? Nobody knew. But on Egypt's streets, many interpreted the military's six-minute statement as a combination of soft military coup and a referendum on Morsi's waning popularity.
At least five of Morsi's ministers resigned Monday, as did a provincial governor. The streets erupted in cheers, with protesters who a year ago chanted "Down, down military rule" now putting officers on their shoulders and carrying them through the streets.
Monday evening, after the military's statement giving the two sides the 48-hour window, state television reported that Morsi met with Minister of Defense Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, and with his prime minister, Hesham Kandil. Morsi's government then announced it would hold a news conference at 9 p.m., and then canceled it.
After the meeting, the military issued a statement, saying it had no interest in entering politics or staging a coup.
The largest opposition group, the liberal National Salvation Front, urged Egyptians to stay in the streets until Morsi resigned. A new opposition group, Tamarod, or Rebel, said Morsi would have until 5 p.m. today to quit, or else it would call for "civil disobedience." OUR REGION
A Q&A on the crisis in Egypt. Page B1