Will Egypt's Army Defy Morsi?

Ex-Egyptian military official says troops unlikely to blindly follow power-grabbing president.

Egyptians chant slogans during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Nov. 27, 2012. More than 200,000 people flocked to Tahrir square on Tuesday, chanting against Egypt's Islamist president in a powerful show of strength by the opposition demanding Mohammed Morsi revoke edicts granting himself near autocratic powers.
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The Egyptian army will likely not respond to requests from the country's newly elected president for protection against protesters angered by his recent power grab, according to a source.

Egyptians were angered by Mohamed Morsi's recent decree that grants him sweeping, nearly absolute powers over the government and immunity from judicial oversight. Morsi's party, the Muslim Brotherhood, called on the military to protect its headquarters outside Cairo against the resulting violent protests.

A former Egyptian military official says the military would avoid getting involved in this fight, just as it did in the waning days of previous dictator Hosni Mubarak's regime, reports Arabic news service Asharq Al-Awsat.

"The army does not intervene…if the army intervenes then it will regret this," the source says. "The army protects its forces, training and presence, because the army is completely independent and that is in order to safeguard the nation. It does not get involved in politics and its only role is to safeguard the nation."

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"[Morsi] is not capable of extricating himself from this hole he has fallen into," says the source. "His only option is to retract his decision."

The dangerous state of the country could lead to unrest nationwide and a catastrophic collapse of the Egyptian economy, the source says. The country's stock market has already plummeted.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have gathered in Cairo's central Tahrir Square – the epicenter of Arab Spring protests last year. They demand Morsi withdraws his decrees, which also grant protective powers to a 100-member panel that is drafting a new constitution, and the lower chamber of parliament.

Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected leader in June. Democracy advocates are enraged by his recent action, which they say mirrors the dictator he replaced.

[FLASHBACK: Before Morsi, Protesters Challenge Post-Mubarak Military]

Egypt's courts say they have suspended their work in the wake of Morsi's decree. Judges in both the high and low courts have said they will not return to work until the president rescinds his decision.

Despite this, an Egyptian court on Wednesday convicted in absentia seven Coptic Christians and an American pastor based in Florida for their involvement on the low-budget film "Innocense of Muslims" which led to waves of public outrage over its depiction of Islam.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood say the courts are dominated by Mubarak-era appointees and undermine the group's democratic efforts.

Check out these unconfirmed tweets from near Tahrir Square in Cairo:

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Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at pshinkman@usnews.com