That means getting the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and others who backed Morsi in elections just last year — a tall order at a time when many feel their democratic rights have been trampled.
Muslim Brotherhood officials who spoke at a news conference of Morsi supporters on Thursday said that participating in any process set up by the military is out of the question.
“Now you are talking about a dictatorship,” said Murad Ali, a spokesman for the group. “We are not accepting this.”
Ali accused the army of trying to re-create the era of Hosni Mubarak, the military-backed autocrat who governed Egypt for 30 years before his ouster in 2011.
Rights groups and political analysts warned Thursday that without a process of reconciliation, stability in Egypt will be elusive.
“The only gain we made after Mubarak, and through Morsi, was freedom,” said Hossam Mikawy, a judge in Egypt’s Nile Delta. “We did not make any progress in anything else. So if we lose our established freedom by not allowing the Islamists to participate, then we will have gained nothing.”
Military leaders, who have now ousted two governments in three years, insist they have no desire to govern Egypt directly. Amr, the country’s foreign minister, said he assured his counterparts around the world of that commitment in telephone conversations Thursday.
But the military also seeks to maintain its immense power and privilege, including control of a vast economic empire that it runs free of civilian government oversight. Morsi largely avoided trying to tamper with that empire, and analysts said Egypt’s next leaders would be wise to do the same.
“The military in principle wants a civilian political leadership, but it wants a leadership that respects its powers and privileges,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
In his final televised address to the nation as president on Tuesday night, Morsi delivered a message of defiance that also included a last-ditch plea for support and understanding.
Moving the country toward an era of growth, stability and productivity “requires a great deal of effort, solidarity, and it also requires time,” Morsi said.
But if the next leader takes too much time, protesters said, there’s always one sure-fire solution.
“We’ll go down to Tahrir again,” Hoda Fadallah Abuzeid said.
Surely if the last two didn’t know the power of the people, she said, the next president will.
Michael Birnbaum and Sharaf al-Hourani in Cairo contributed to this report.