CAIRO – Egypt’s first democratically elected president was ousted Wednesday by the military after barely a year in office, felled by the same kind of popular revolt that brought him to power in the Arab Spring.
The military announced that it would install a temporary civilian government to replace Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who denounced the action as a “full coup” by the generals. They also suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and called for new elections.
Millions of anti-Morsi protesters in cities across the country erupted in joy after the televised announcement by the army chief. Fireworks burst over crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where men and women danced, shouting, “God is great” and “Long live Egypt.”
“Don’t ask me if I am happy. Just look around you at all those people, young and old; they are all happy,” said protester Mohammed Nageh, 25, shouting to be heard at Tahrir. “For the first time, people have really won their liberty.”
Fearing a violent reaction by Morsi’s Islamist supporters, the military sent troops and armored vehicles into streets of Cairo and elsewhere, surrounding Islamist rallies. The head of the political wing of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood was arrested.
Clashes erupted in several provincial cities when Islamists opened fire on police, with at least nine killed in the battles, security officials said.
Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood party, said that Morsi was under house arrest at a Presidential Guard facility where he had been residing and that 12 presidential aides also were under house arrest.
The army took control of state media and blacked out TV stations operated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The head of the Brotherhood’s political wing was arrested.
The ouster of Morsi throws Egypt on an uncertain course, with a danger of further confrontation. It came after four days of mass demonstrations even larger than those of the 2011 Arab Spring that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egyptians were angered that Morsi was giving too much power to his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and had failed to tackle the country’s mounting economic woes.
President Obama urged the military to hand back control to a democratic, civilian government as soon as possible but stopped short of calling it a coup d’état. He said he was “deeply concerned” by the military’s move to topple Morsi’s government and suspend the constitution. He said he was ordering the U.S. government to assess what the military’s actions meant for U.S. foreign aid to Egypt – $1.5 billion a year in military and economic assistance.
The United States wasn’t taking sides in the conflict, committing itself only to democracy and respect for the rule of law, Obama said.
Moments after the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, spoke, Morsi said in a statement on his office’s Twitter account that the military’s measures “represent a full coup categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation,” while urging “everyone to adhere to peacefulness and avoid shedding blood of fellow countrymen.”
Morsi has insisted that his legitimacy as an elected president must not be violated or Egypt could be thrown in to violence. Some of his Islamist backers, tens of thousands of whom took to the streets in recent days, have vowed to fight to the end to defend both the legitimacy of the vote and their ambitions to bring Islamist rule to Egypt.
“Down with military rule. Revolution, Islamic revolution, against el-Sissi and the thugs,” thousands chanted at the main pro-Morsi rally in Cairo after the army announcement.
The army has insisted that it is not carrying out a coup, but acting on the will of the people. El-Sissi, in his speech, said the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, would step in as interim president until new elections are held. A government of technocrats would be formed with “full powers” to run the country.
Mansour, who was appointed to the court by Mubarak but elevated to the chief justice post by Morsi, is to be sworn in today by judges of his court.
El-Sissi, the defense minister appointed by Morsi, promised “not to exclude anyone or any movement” from the transition. But he did not define the length of the transition period or when presidential elections would be held. He also did not mention any role for the military.
The constitution, drafted by Morsi’s Islamist allies, was “temporarily suspended,” and a panel of experts and representatives of all political movements will consider amendments, he said. He did not say whether a referendum would be held to ratify the changes.
El-Sissi spoke while flanked by the country’s top Muslim and Christian clerics, as well as pro-reform leader Mohammed ElBaradei and two representatives of Tamarod, or Rebel, the youth opposition movement that engineered the latest wave of protests with a petition campaign that collected more than 22 million signatures of Egyptians who want Morsi to step down.
“I call on all of you to stay in the squares to protect what we have won,” one of the two Tamarod members, Mahmoud Badr, said in televised comments.
“I hope this plan is the beginning of a new launch for the Jan. 25 revolution when people offered their dearest to restore their freedom, dignity and social justice for every Egyptian,” said ElBaradei, a Nobel peace laureate and former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.