Updated 5:28 PM:
Egypt’s embattled President Mohammed Morsi rejected an ultimatum by his country’s military Tuesday, as he continued to cling to power in defiance of millions of protesters.
Morsi has until Wednesday to meet his own military’s demands to step down and allow new elections before the Egyptian Army says it will impose it’s own “road map” for the future. In a statement read on state television Monday, the army gave the president a 48-hour window to meet its demands after an “unprecedented” display of public opinion called for Morsi’s ouster.
In a statement posted on Twitter Tuesday and confirmed by NBC News, Morsi called on the armed forces to withdraw its warning and refused any internal or external orders.
The protests sprang up in advance of Morsi’s one-year anniversary in office on Sunday, as the mostly secular opposition took to the streets in Egypt’s major cities. Morsi was democratically elected in 2012, after large-scale protests led to the resignation of autocratic former President Hosni Mubarak, who led the country for three decades.
Morsi’s critics charge him with mismanaging the country and grabbing power for himself and his Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood. The growing protests have left Morsi increasingly isolated, with members of his senior staff relinquishing their posts.
The display across the country with its epicenter in Cairo’s Tahrir Square marked the biggest uprising since 2011’s Arab Spring. Sixteen people have been killed in the recent protests, and more than 700 wounded.
Protestors set up tents and continued to rally in Tahrir Square Tuesday ahead of the Wednesday deadline.
“There’s no doubt in minds of these people here, the clock is ticking on the presidency of Mohammed Morsi,” NBC Foreign Correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin said, reporting from Tahrir Square.
Morsi rejected the army’s ultimatum in a statement from his own office nine hours later, outlining a different path forward while noting that the military’s edict came down without his knowledge.
“The presidency sees that some of the statements [by the army] carry meanings that could cause confusion in the complex national environment,” Morsi’s statement read. “The presidency confirms that it is going forward on its previously plotted path to promote comprehensive national reconciliation…regardless of any statements that deepen divisions between citizens.”
The U.S. and Canada have shuttered their embassies amid the protests, with the U.S. re-evaluating on a day-to-day basis.
The White House confirmed that President Obama spoke with Morsi over the phone on Monday, and told him the U.S. was “committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group.” Obama also “stressed that democracy is about more than elections.”
“Our message publicly and privately has been very consistent, that we want to see Egyptians succeed, that we don’t take sides, we don’t have a particular party or group or interest that we’re backing. Indeed, the only thing that we’re backing is the Egyptian people and the goal of their success in their democratic transition, that they can get their economy back on track, that they can fully see their democratic transition succeed,” State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Monday.
Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Middle East over the weekend, but focused on restarting negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Kerry spoke with former Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr Wednesday and reiterated President Obama’s urging for Morsi to “take steps to show that he is responsive to [the people’s] concerns” according to State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“Our commitment is to allowing the democratic process to take place,” Psaki said. “We’re not taking sides in this case, it’s not up to us, the United States, to make choices here.”