WHAT'S BEHIND THE CRISIS?
In November, President Mohammed Morsi unilaterally decreed greater powers for himself, giving his decisions immunity from judicial review and barring the courts from dissolving the constituent assembly and the upper house of parliament. The move sparked days of protests at the time, and is behind the growing political divide in the country – with the Muslim Brotherhood and Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters on one side and the opposition parties and student leaders on the other. At the same time, demonstrators have said they are angry about the state of the Egyptian economy and an increase in sectarian tensions.
WHO IS BEHIND THE PROTEST?
The demonstrations were prompted in April by five young activists who started a petition calling for the ouster of Mr. Morsi and organized a protest at the presidential palace on June 30, the anniversary of his inauguration. The campaign, called "Tamarrod," Arabic for "rebellion," spawned branches across the country and rallied millions of Egyptians to join the protests.
The protest's success has made its originators – Mahmoud Badr, Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, Hassan Shahin, Mai Wahba and Mohammed Heikal, all 22- to 30-years-old – heroes to those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood. The five friends all worked in opposition news media but have distanced themselves from political parties. They were all Muslims and personally devout but deeply distrustful of the political Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The idea at the start was that there was lots of anger in the street against the Brotherhood and Morsi, and that one part of society had taken over the government and not carried out any reforms that have benefited people," said Mr. Shahin, 22, who is credited with suggesting the campaign to his friends.
WHY THE ULTIMATUM AND WILL THE ARMY INTERVENE?
Spurred on by mass anti-Morsi protests, the Egyptian army moved in dramatic style on Monday by giving Mr. Morsi and his opponents 48 hours to resolve the standoff. Failure to meet the people's demands, the army said, would result in the military unveiling and implementing its own road map for the country.
On Tuesday, military sources detailed the army's plan to push Mr. Morsi aside and suspend the constitution if he fails to strike a power-sharing deal with his opponents. The army, they said, would install an interim council, composed mainly of civilians from different political groups and experienced technocrats, to run the country until an amended constitution was drafted within months.
That would be followed by a new presidential election, but parliamentary polls would be delayed until strict conditions for selecting candidates were in force, the sources said.
Many analysts doubt the army wants to move back into an executive role in Egypt. Diplomats say 17 months of interim rule fraught with economic and political crises was more than enough for the generals.
WHAT IS THE U.S. RESPONSE?
The U.S. government, fearing a political-military implosion that could throw its most important Arab ally into chaos, has abandoned its hands-off approach and delivered pointed warnings to the three main players in the crisis: Mr. Morsi, the protesters demanding his ouster and the powerful Egyptian military.
U.S. officials said Tuesday they are urging Mr. Morsi to take immediate steps to address opposition grievances, telling the protesters to remain peaceful and reminding the army that a coup could have consequences for the massive U.S. military aid package it currently receives. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the delicate diplomacy.
The officials said Washington has stopped short of imposing a to-do list on Mr. Morsi, but has instead offered strong suggestions, backed by billions of dollars in U.S. aid, about what he could do to ease the tensions. Those include calling early elections, appointing new cabinet members, firing an unpopular prosecutor general and expressing a willingness to explore constitutional change.
The army has been told that the $1.3-billion in foreign military financing it receives each year from Washington could be jeopardized by a coup or the appearance of a coup.
Reuters, Associated Press and The New York Times