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Coup in Egypt: The Middle East responds

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BEIRUT — The military coup that toppled Egypt’s Islamist president has divided the Middle East between those who see the move as a broadside against pious Muslims and those who view it as a triumph for secular values.

Divisions have also played out according to political and regional loyalties. The fall of President Mohamed Morsi, who was democratically elected, spelled the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political power in Egypt, and the Islamist movement’s regional allies were furious.

“The counter-revolution is firing its most poisonous arrows now at Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Yusuf Rizqah, a senior Hamas official, wrote in the militant group’s daily in Gaza. “However, the next arrow will be fired at the [opposition National] Salvation Front and the liberal and left-wing parties, because the counter-revolution seeks to restore repression. It will not allow anyone to enjoy the freedom Mohamed Morsi had allowed and documented in the new constitution."

In Tunisia, the ruling Islamist Nahda party denounced what it called a “flagrant coup.” Like the Muslim Brotherhood, Nahda rose to power after an "Arab Spring" uprising toppled a secular autocrat in 2011, and the party has clashed with liberal secularists.

Turkey, which has presented its blend of Islam and democracy as a model for the Muslim world and had been forging ties with Morsi, also reacted with alarm to his ouster.

“The toppling of a government that came into office through democratic elections, through methods that are not legal — and what is worse, through a military coup — is unacceptable, no matter what the reasons,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

A spokesman for the governing Justice and Development Party was more blunt.

“I curse the dirty coup in Egypt,” Huseyin Celik tweeted late Wednesday, according to the Turkish English-language daily Today’s Zaman. “I hope the broad masses who brought Morsi to power will defend their votes, which mean democratic honor.”

But a number of Sunni Muslim-led states -- notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose royal families viewed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to their own power -- welcomed Morsi’s departure.

Both were quick to congratulate Adly Mahmoud Mansour, head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, who was sworn in Thursday as acting president.  Saudi King Abdullah also had high praise for the Egyptian military.

“We strongly shake hands with the men of all the armed forces … who managed to save Egypt at this critical moment from a dark tunnel, ” the king said in a cable to Mansour, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. “God only could apprehend its dimensions and repercussions.”

In the United Arab Emirates, where authorities have cracked down on Islamist groups, Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan expressed satisfaction with developments in Egypt.

“The great Egyptian army proves, once again, that it is the strong shield and the protector that guarantees that the country is a land of institutions and law that embraces all the components of the Egyptian people,” he was quoted as saying by the official Emirates News Agency.

In Jordan, a key U.S. ally where the Islamist opposition has made increasingly strident calls for more government representation, the official media reveled in Morsi’s fall.

Egyptians “regained their revolution,” according to an article in the newspaper Al Rai, mouthpiece of the Jordanian government. Democracy “cannot be a ladder they [the Muslim Brotherhood] use to get to power.”

Jordanian Islamists feared the Muslim Brotherhood’s fall in Egypt would hurt their own cause.

"People will say you reached power and failed,” said Abu Sayaf, leader of the country’s hard-line Salafist party, who asked to be identified by a traditional nickname for security reasons. "Now if we try to come to power here, they'll say, ‘What will you do that the Brotherhood didn't do?’ "

In Syria, where President Bashar Assad faces a Sunni-driven rebellion that has dragged on for more than two years, the state-run media was in a celebratory mood. State television broadcast nonstop coverage from Egypt’s Tahrir Square in Cairo, where antigovernment protesters massed, including commentary late into the night Wednesday.

Assad, whose late father crushed a 1980s Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Syria, hailed Morsi’s ouster as the fall of “political Islam” in an interview with the newspaper Al Thawra.

The response was more muted among some of Assad’s opponents.

“We stand with our Egyptian brothers, no matter what they decide,” said Montasser Khaled, a rebel leader in Syria’s Hasaka province. “We consider this to be a coup against legitimacy, to be honest, yet we respect the choice of the Egyptians. With that said, this should have been done through the ballot box.”

Wednesday’s dramatic events were closely watched in Shiite Muslim-governed Iran, which had sought to repair decades of strained relations with Egypt after the overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in 2011.

In guarded comments to Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency, Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Araqchi urged Egyptian authorities to respect the people’s “legitimate demands” and remain vigilant against “the plots hatched by ill-wishers aimed at dividing the nation.”

Israel, which shares a border with Egypt, was also keeping a close eye on developments. Although there was little official response, some security experts expressed concern about a potential further deterioration in security in Egypt's  Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel. 

“In this region, violence has a way of reaching us at the end of the day,” said Avi Dichter, a former government minister and ex-chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, in an interview with Israel Radio. “The current situation of the Muslim Brotherhood is such that it will be difficult to contain quietly for any length of time.”

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Special correspondents Sandels reported from Beirut and Bulos from Amman. Special correspondents Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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