Anti-Morsi protesters in Tahrir square in Cai
Anti-Morsi protesters in Tahrir square in CaiReuters

Egypt’s powerful military appears ready to struggle for control with the country’s Muslim Brotherhood, with millions of citizens calling for the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

As the clock winds down to the end of a 48-hour ultimatum delivered to the president by the Egyptian Army, Morsi has bluntly refused to step down when the deadline is reached.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper is predicting the military leadership will remove the president by force, if necessary, in order to resolve the political crisis that has developed.

Over the past few weeks, a groundswell of protests by demonstrators in cities around the country has grown from a few thousand to more than 22 million.

At least 23 people have died in gun battles in the nation’s capital thus far, as grassroots discontent with Morsi’s perceived incompetence on a host of domestic issues adds fuel to the flames of rage from the opposition.

But a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement Wednesday that the president, and the organization that backs him, “will not allow the will of the Egyptian people to be bullied by the military machine.”

In a televised address, Morsi vowed to defend his “constitutional legitimacy” and said he would stay despite the call by millions since Sunday for him to step down.

“The price of preserving legitimacy is my life,” Morsi said. “Legitimacy is the only guarantee to preserve this country.”

The official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood likewise said the group’s supporters were willing to become “martyrs” to defend the president.

“There is only one thing we can do – we will stand in between the tanks and the president,” Gehad El-Haddad told reporters at the organization’s headquarters in a Cairo suburb. “We will not allow the will of the Egyptian people to be bullied again by the military machine.”