The army pushed Egypt’s first democratically elected president from power after days of massive street protests, acting swiftly to remove the Islamist leader in favor of a coalition government and calling for new elections to bring stability to this deeply polarized nation.
President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party, in power just a year, remained defiant, insisting that they continued to be Egypt’s legitimate authority. Some of Morsi’s supporters threatened violent retaliation, but the Islamists appeared to be overwhelmed by tanks in the boulevards and hundreds of thousands of protesters streaming through villages and cities.
Anti-Morsi protesters, honking horns, flying flags and flashing green lasers into the sky over the Nile crammed Tahrir Square in Cairo during hours of closed-door meetings and amid reports of troop movements. People across the capital silenced one another to listen to televised news bulletins. At the mosque where Islamists camped, men wept.
Fireworks exploded over the city when Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, commander of the armed forces, went on television late Wednesday to declare that Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, would replace Morsi. The court was one of Morsi’s most potent enemies. The military, acting hours after the expiration of a 48-hour deadline it had given Morsi to restore stability, also scrapped the new Islamist-drafted constitution.
Sisi said Morsi “failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people.”
He said religious and civilian leaders “have agreed on a road map for the future that includes initial steps to achieve the building of a strong Egyptian society that is cohesive and does not exclude anyone, and ends the state of tension and division.”
In a matter of minutes, Sisi’s terse words brought about the demise of the Brotherhood’s effort to govern Egypt after decades as a potent but outlawed movement. It was the second time in two years that the army intervened in the country’s turbulent politics, highlighting concern that Egypt’s success at building a democracy would be determined more by the power of the street than by the ballot box.
“The procedures announced by the general command of the armed forces represent a full coup d’etat that is completely unacceptable,” Morsi said on his Facebook page. He urged “all civil and military citizens to abide by the constitution and the law and to not respond to this coup, which drives Egypt backward.”
But the military quickly tightened the circle around the deposed president, slapping travel bans on him and prominent Brotherhood members. The Egyptian media reported that Morsi was in “political isolation,” perhaps under the jurisdiction of the army. His whereabouts could not be confirmed, and the state newspaper Al Ahram reported that arrest warrants were issued for 300 Brotherhood members.
The opposition greeted the military takeover as a chance to finish the 2011 revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power and briefly turned Egypt into the envy of the Arab world. But Morsi’s supporters, including his compatriots in the Brotherhood, saw the army’s gambit as something more sinister.
“As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page,” Essam Haddad, a senior advisor to Morsi, wrote on Facebook. “For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: military coup.”
President Obama said he was concerned about Morsi’s ouster, although he avoided describing it as a coup, which would trigger automatic cuts in U.S. aid to a longtime ally. But Obama did not call for Morsi to be returned to power, and he did not openly condemn the Egyptian military.
Some Islamist pro-Morsi demonstrators at a main Cairo mosque were in tears after Morsi’s downfall. Others called for “dying in the name of God” while surrounding soldiers and chanting against Sisi. Clashes were reported late Wednesday in the coastal city of Alexandria.
“By what right does [Sisi] have the power to remove a democratically elected president?” said Mahmoud Gameel, standing outside the Rabaa Al Adaweya mosque in Cairo. “We will continue our sit-in ... all over Egypt until [Sisi] and his gang leave power. All they care about is money from the U.S. and Israel that is going into their pockets.”
The opposition had accused Morsi and the Brotherhood of one-dimensional vision to create an Islamic state at the expense of fixing the country’s many ills, including poverty, power outages, plummeting foreign reserves, rising crime and dwindling tourism. Morsi failed to understand the searing anger of the struggling poor and working classes that grew during his year in office.
“We want a better future, a better economy,” said Riham Adel, a 28-year-old secretary protesting in Tahrir Square. “We don’t want to be so divided and polarized. This is what the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi did to us.”
The military, for decades one of Egypt’s most respected institutions, ruled the country from Mubarak’s ouster in 2011 until Morsi was inaugurated. But it was accused in that time of mass arrests and civil rights violations. It has said it does not want to return to power. To make its point, and show the face of an inclusive Egypt, Sisi invited Nobel laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei and Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II to stand beside him during his national address.
ElBaradei’s appearance next to Sisi was a stark example of how much the political atmosphere has changed. ElBaradei, like other activists, was a fierce critic of military rule. But he was selected to represent the opposition in talks with the army and agreed on a coalition government after assurances that the country would be in the hands of civilians.
Before the 2011 revolution toppled Mubarak, ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was often mentioned as an ideal successor. His lack of street presence during that uprising angered many activists, and he was also viewed as someone who had lived abroad too long to govern Egypt. But he has again emerged a possible contender to lead the country.
But Morsi and the Brotherhood, which waited more than 80 years for political power, accused the military of running a legitimately elected president out of office.
In a speech to the nation Tuesday night, Morsi made a rambling, defiant pitch to stay in power. He repeated the word “legitimacy” dozens of times, evoked God and the glory of Egypt. He seemed a man trying to rouse a nation, at least half of which had tired of his rhetoric.
Wednesday afternoon, he offered the compromise of a coalition government but by then the military plan was already in action.
One protester in Tahrir Square was carrying a mock ballot box that told Morsi: “Take your legitimacy box and go.”
Hassieb is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Manar Mohsen contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was just a few days past the end of his tumultuous first year in power when the military ousted him Wednesday. Key events of his time in office:
June 30, 2012: Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer and activist with the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, is sworn in as Egypt’s first freely elected president after winning 52% of votes in a runoff election two weeks earlier.
July 10: The Islamist-dominated parliament convenes in defiance of a court order deeming it to have been illegally elected. The session is a symbolic show of support for Morsi.
Aug. 2: A Cabinet is sworn in, retaining key ministers from the interim military government, a reflection of the limited choices available to Morsi from outside the old guard of his ousted predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
Aug. 12: Morsi purges the armed forces hierarchy in a provocative move to expand the powers of the presidency and rid the military of top brass from the Mubarak era.
Sept. 26: In his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, Morsi signals that he will impose curbs on free speech. He declares Egypt’s intent to lead the way in resolving Syria’s civil war, pressing the cause of Palestinians and defusing the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
Nov. 21: Morsi is instrumental in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Nov. 22: Morsi expands his authority, weakening the courts and excluding his decrees from judicial oversight. The decree infuriates civil rights leaders.
Nov. 23: Clashes erupt across Egypt in protest of Morsi’s power grab, which has sharpened lines between Islamists and those who fear the president is seeking to subject the country to Islamic law.
Dec. 8: Morsi rescinds his 2-week-old decree, but the move fails to calm unrest as the president refuses to cancel a referendum on a proposed constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly.
Dec. 22: Morsi scores a victory in his push for an Islamist state when a controversial new constitution is approved by voters. The opposition accuses the president’s Islamist allies of fraud.
Jan. 27, 2013: Morsi invokes emergency powers in Ismailia, Port Said and Suez to quell riots that have killed nearly 50 and raise questions about whether his Islamist-backed government can secure order.
March 3: The U.S. government releases $250 million in aid to Morsi’s government in exchange for pledges of political and economic reforms.
April 27: An alcohol-free hotel opens at a Red Sea resort, testament to the spreading influence of Islamic values.
May 7: Morsi reshuffles his Cabinet, strengthening the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power and angering opposition leaders.
Sunday: Millions gather across Egypt to denounce Morsi on the first anniversary of his inauguration. The protests are countered by Morsi supporters, leading to deadly clashes.
Wednesday: Egypt’s military, which on Monday had issued an ultimatum that Morsi end the disruptive turmoil paralyzing the country within 48 hours, announces that it has removed him from office and suspended the constitution. Demonstrators celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, restoring the scene of revolutionary chaos that ensued after Mubarak’s February 2011 ouster.
Source: Carol J. Williams