Egyptian President Morsi under house arrest following military action

Egyptian President Morsi under house arrest following military action
Protesters celebrate in Tahrir Square in Cairo last night

Egypt’s first democratically-elected president is under house arrest after being overthrown by the military in the same kind of Arab Spring uprising that brought the Islamist leader to power just a year ago.

The armed forces announced they would install a temporary civilian government to replace Mohammed Morsi, who condemned the action as a “full coup” by the generals. They also suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and called for a new election.

Millions of anti-Morsi protesters erupted in celebrations 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”.

Fearing a violent reaction by Mr Morsi’s supporters, troops and armoured vehicles deployed in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, surrounding Islamist rallies. Clashes erupted in several provincial cities when Islamists opened fire on police, with at least nine people killed, security officials said.

Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood party, said Mr Morsi was under house arrest at a Presidential Guard building where he had been living. Twelve presidential aides were also 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 ousting of Mr Morsi came after four days of mass demonstrations even larger than those of the 2011 Arab Spring that toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptians were angered that Mr Morsi was giving too much power to his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and had failed to tackle the country’s mounting economic woes.

US president Barack 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’etat.

He said he was “deeply concerned” by the military’s move to topple Mr Morsi’s government and suspend Egypt’s constitution and was ordering the US government to assess what the military’s actions meant for American foreign aid to Egypt - US $1.5bn dollars a year in military and economic assistance.

Mr Obama said the US was not taking sides in the conflict, but committing itself only to democracy and respect for the rule of law.

On Monday, army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had given Mr Morsi an ultimatum to find a solution to meet the demands of anti-government demonstrators in 48 hours, but the 62-year-old former engineer defiantly insisted on his legitimacy from an election he won with 51.7% of the vote in June 2012.

Any deal was a near impossibility, however, making it inevitable the military would move.

As the deadline approached, Gen el-Sissi met pro-reform leader Mohammed ElBaradei, top Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, as well as opposition activists and some members of the ultraconservative Salafi movements. The consultations were apparently aimed at bringing as wide a consensus as possible behind the army’s moves.

The Brotherhood boycotted the session, according to its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party.

In a last-minute statement before the deadline, Mr Morsi again rejected the military’s intervention, saying abiding by his electoral legitimacy was the only way to prevent violence.

“One mistake that cannot be accepted, and I say this as president of all Egyptians, is to take sides,” he said. “Justice dictates that the voice of the masses from all squares should be heard.”

“For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup,” Mr Morsi’s top foreign policy adviser Essam al-Haddad said on his Facebook page.

After the deadline expired, Gen el-Sissi went on state TV and said the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, would step in as interim president until a new election was held.

Flanked by Muslim and Christian clerics as well as Mr ElBaradei and two opposition activists, Gen el-Sissi said a government of technocrats would be formed with “full powers” to run the country.

He promised “not to exclude anyone or any movement” from further steps. 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 Mr Morsi’s Islamist allies, was “temporarily suspended” and a panel of experts and representatives of all political movements will consider amendments, Gen el-Sissi said. He did not say whether a referendum would be held to ratify the changes, as is customary.

Mr ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, said he hoped the military plan “is the beginning of a new launch for the January 25 revolution when people offered their dearest to restore their freedom, dignity and social justice for every Egyptian”.

The army insisted it was not carrying out a coup, but acting on the will of the people to clear the way for a new leadership. Gen el-Sissi warned that the armed forces and police would deal “decisively” with violence.

Travel bans were imposed on Mr Morsi and top figures from the Muslim Brotherhood including its chief Mohammed Badie and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater. Officials said security forces had surrounded Badie inside a tourist compound where he had been staying in the Mediterranean coastal city of Marsa Matrouh, near the Libyan border.

Police shot dead six Islamists who opened fire on Marsa Matrouh’s police headquarters as they drove past. Morsi supporters also tried to storm a police station in the southern city of Minya, but were battled back by police, killing three, while other Islamists destroyed cars and shops and threw stones at a church in the nearby city of Deir Mawas, while police fired tear gas at them.

Police and armed Morsi supporters also battled in the southern city of Assiut, another Islamist stronghold.

Nearly 50 people have been killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents since Sunday.


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