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Déjà Vu: Egyptian Military Sets 48-Hour Deadline to Resolve Political Crisis

In a statement posted to its Facebook page and read aloud on Egyptian state television on Monday, Egypt's military leaders issued an ultimatum calling for a resolution to the country's political crisis within the next 48 hours. According to the statement, in the event that the government does not recognize the demands of the protesters -- which range from President Mohamed Morsy stepping down to addressing the country's pressing economic concerns -- the military will implement a plan to resolve the situation (what that plan might entail is not specified).

The statement was posted at approximately 4:30 p.m., Cairo time, which would give the protesters and government until Wednesday afternoon to reach an accord. The New York Times notes that it is unclear whether this means the military is calling on Morsy to resign, but the message has been seen by some analysts on Twitter as a threat of a coup d'état. Since the announcement was made, military helicopters flying Egyptian flags have circled Tahrir Square, drawing cheers from the activists below.

The announcement -- or warning -- carries a strong sense of déjà vu. The two weeks of protests that forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 culminated with an announcement that the president was resigning and passing power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) -- a decision that came after Mubarak appeared to lose the support of the military leadership. The country's military leaders then oversaw a year-and-a-half-long transition period, during which they were accused of trying to maintain the military's vaunted position in the management of Egypt's national affairs and were frequently criticized for human rights abuses. That transition ended a year ago with Morsy's inauguration.

Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Center on Foreign Relations and author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square, believes that the military is repositioning itself to maintain its political and economic stake in the Egyptian government. "The tone the military has struck up until this moment," he writes on his blog, "is perfectly suited for the officers' ultimate goal which is, and has been, to salvage what they can from the wreckage of the January 25 uprising and preserve their place in Egyptian society." Cook notes that the military's top officials are "shrewd political operators" and that the flag-waving overflights are a masterful way to signal solidarity with the protesters, even though the army is primarily interested in protecting its own interests.

Some of the protesters have embraced the military during this latest round of protests and have brought back a chant popular in 2011: "The people and the Army are one hand." Others, wary of the long SCAF-managed transition and the military's intentions, have received the announcement with unease. The seemingly deliberate ambiguity of today's statement raises questions about the military's exact plan -- it could be a bluff to force a compromise in the next two days, or it could be much more.

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Muslim Brotherhood HQ Burned and Looted

CAIRO -- During the 2011 protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak, one of the first targets was the Egyptian president's party apparatus: On Jan. 28, protesters set fire to the headquarters of his National Democratic Party, a large office building looming between Tahrir Square and the Nile.

Some Egyptians are now giving their country's new rulers the same treatment. On Monday, vandals looted and burned the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in the Cairo neighborhood of Moqattam. The incident, which was the culmination of clashes throughout the night, was the most significant violence in the capital following a day of largely peaceful protests. Five people were reportedly killed at the site, while the police and the army declined to intervene.

Once inside the Brotherhood headquarters, the protesters were quick to strip it bare. Video taken by an Egyptian television station showed that the building had been gutted: The rooms were bare of furniture, air conditioning units were stripped from the walls, and windows were shattered. Outside, photographs showed Egyptians climbing on top of the burning hulk of the building, while others showed vandals hauling out its contents.

Protesters removed everything in the headquarters that wasn't nailed down -- and some things that were. Egyptian journalist Ahmed Khair, who was present at the scene, tweeted a photograph of an Egyptian carting off a wooden door. Khair also posted a photograph of a young Egyptian making off with the office sign of Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater, who some suspect is the true power behind President Mohamed Morsy's government.

But for many Egyptians, the destruction of the Brotherhood headquarters is a worrying sign of what could come next. Egypt's Health Ministry reported today that 16 people had been killed over the past several days of unrest -- most, if not all, losing their lives in violence with fellow civilians, rather than clashes with the security forces. It also represents a challenge to the opposition organizers' strategy: In an interview before the demonstrations, Mahmoud Badr, a founder of the "Tamarod" movement that organized the petition calling for Morsy's resignation, described how opposition supporters would take to the streets completely unarmed. "We will be very careful to keep everything peaceful, which was our aim from the beginning," he said. "We will not be dragged into any violent clashes."

The Tamarod campaign has now delivered an ultimatum to Morsy: Resign by 5 pm on Tuesday, or face a sustained campaign of civil disobedience. What that will look like, and what it will mean for Egypt, is still unclear. But it seems we are soon going to find out.

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images