A day after coup, a new and uncertain order in Egypt
CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) — An uncertain new political order began to take shape in Egypt on Thursday, a day after the military deposed and reportedly detained the country’s first democratically elected president, put a top judge in his place and suspended the constitution.
Wednesday’s coup that toppled Mohamed Morsy prompted hundreds of thousands of people in the streets across Egypt to both applaud and assail the generals’ decision to step into the country’s political fray for the second time in slightly more than two years.
It also left questions: What will happen to Morsy and his supporters, who insist he remains the country’s legitimate leader? Will violence blamed for the deaths Wednesday of at least 32 people spread? What hopes remain for Egypt’s attempts to build a multiparty democracy?
“I don’t think that the military’s so-called road map is actually going to move smoothly,” said Hani Sabra, director of the Middle Eastern arm of the Eurasia Group, a U.S.-based political risk research and consulting firm.
“I think there are a lot of challenges it faces,” Sabra said, noting the threat of more violence, possible divisions within the anti-Morsy coalition and Egypt’s economic woes.
On Thursday morning, Tahrir Square in Cairo was calm. The huge crowds that had celebrated Morsy’s ouster with horns, cheering, fireworks the night before had thinned.
Morsy, a Western-educated Islamist elected a year ago, “did not achieve the goals of the people” and failed to meet the generals’ demands that he share power with his opposition, Egypt’s top military officer, Gen. Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, said Wednesday in a televised speech to the nation.
Adly Mansour, head of the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, replaces Morsy as Egypt’s interim president, El-Sisi said.
Following a decree last month by Morsy, Mansour had become head of the court just two days earlier. He was sworn in as interim president Thursday in Cairo.
At the ceremony, Mansour said the Egyptian people had given him the authority “to amend and correct” the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Until new elections, to be held at an unspecified date, Mansour will have the power to issue constitutional declarations, El-Sisi said.
The military had not commented on Morsy’s whereabouts. But Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad told CNN the deposed president was under “house arrest” at the presidential Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.
The state-run Middle East News Agency said two leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party had been taken into custody; the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram said police were seeking another 300.
The Egyptian military has dominated the country for six decades and took direct power for a year and a half after Mubarak’s ouster.
Morsy’s approval ratings plummeted after his election in June 2012 as his government failed to keep order or revive Egypt’s economy.
Morsy’s opponents accused him of authoritarianism and forcing through a conservative agenda, and on Monday the military gave him 48 hours to order reforms.
As the deadline neared Wednesday, he offered to form an interim coalition government to oversee parliamentary elections and revise the constitution, which was enacted in January. But those actions failed to satisfy the generals.
The army’s move against Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood, the long-repressed political movement that propelled him to office, provoked wildly conflicting reactions.
In Tahrir Square, the epicenter of two Egyptian upheavals, a vast gathering of Morsy’s opponents erupted in jubilation and fireworks at El-Sisi’s announcement Wednesday night.
“The crowd walked up to the barricades and started banging on them using rocks, sticks and even bare hands,” said Sultan Zaki Al-Saud in a CNN iReport. “It sounded like thunder as the hollow barricades rang with every blow.”
During his time in office, Morsy had squared off against Egypt’s judiciary, the media, the police and even artists.
Egyptians are frustrated with rampant crime and a struggling economy. Unemployment remains high, food prices are rising and there are frequently electricity cuts and long fuel lines.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a leading opposition figure, said the plans announced by the military Wednesday were “a correction for the way of the revolution” that drove Mubarak from office.
But Abdoul Mawgoud Dardery, a former member of parliament allied with Morsy, criticized the military’s decision to take matters into its hands.
“I don’t know how can anyone with common sense support a military coup in a democracy,” he said. Egyptians “will never recognize a coup d’etat.”
Outside observers echoed that concern.
“Popular protests are the sign of a robust democracy. But the change in an elected government should be at the ballot box, not through mob violence,” said Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Across the Nile River from Tahrir Square, Morsy supporters chanted, “Down with military rule,” and “The square has a million martyrs.”
A pro-Morsy protester in Cairo predicted demonstrators would stay “until Mohamed Morsy is once again president of Egypt.”
“We’re not violent, but at the end of the day we want peaceful change of power,” El-Haddad, the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “But if democracy gets derailed every time that way, what other option is the people left with?”
‘The world is looking’
Morsy had remained defiant.
“The world is looking at us today,” he said Wednesday in a taped statement delivered to the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera. “We by ourselves can bypass the obstacles. We, the sons of Egypt, the sons of this country — this is the will of the people and cannot be canceled.”
Shortly after Morsy’s statement aired, Al Jazeera reported its Cairo studios had been raided during a live broadcast and its presenter, guests and producers arrested.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the long-repressed political movement that propelled Morsy to office, said its broadcast outlets had been shut.
El-Haddad told CNN he couldn’t confirm any arrests beyond those of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party chief, Saad el-Katatni, and its deputy, Rashad Al-Bayoumi.
“A return to Mubarak-era practices of mass arrests and politically motivated imprisonment of Muslim Brotherhood leaders will have the worst possible effect on Egypt’s political future,” said Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based advocacy group.
Despite the apparent moves against the Brotherhood, the military suggested Thursday it would protect the movement’s members. The military said it would not allow any attacks or intimidation against those who belong to an Islamic group, state-run Nile TV reported.
But 32 people were killed Wednesday in clashes in Egypt, officials told Nile TV. Hundreds more were reported to have been injured.
The sporadic violence at times pitted Morsy’s supporters against the opposition and the military, raising fears of spiraling unrest.
Concerns of a backlash
Some observers warned of an extremist backlash.
“The major lesson that Islamists in the Middle East are likely to learn from this episode is that they will not be allowed to exercise power, no matter how many compromises they make in both the domestic and foreign policy arenas,” said Mohammed Ayoob, Michigan State University professor emeritus of international relations.
“This is likely to push a substantial portion of mainstream Islamists into the arms of the extremists who reject democracy and ideological compromise,” Ayoob wrote in a CNN.com opinion piece.
President Barack Obama said the United States was “deeply concerned” by Morsy’s removal and the suspension of the constitution.
He called upon the military to hand over power to “a democratically elected civilian government” but did not say it needed to be Morsi’s.
The situation has created an uncomfortable policy scenario for the United States, which champions democratic principles.
Washington has supplied Egypt’s military with tens of billions of dollars in support and equipment for more than 30 years. Under U.S. law, that support could be cut off after a coup.
Obama said he had ordered “the relevant departments and agencies” to study how the change in power would affect U.S. aid.
The German government was more emphatic in its assessment.
“This is a heavy setback for democracy in Egypt,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. “It is very urgent for Egypt to return to constitutional order as soon as possible.”
CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported from Cairo; Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong and Chelsea J. Carter from Atlanta. CNN’s Reza Sayah, Becky Anderson, Tom Watkins, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Hamdi Alkhshali, Ivan Watson, Jill Dougherty, Dan Lothian, Amir Ahmed, Ali Younes, Schams Elwazer, Elise Labott, Ian Lee, Housam Ahmed and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.
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