Egypt’s defense chief Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi announced on Wednesday night that the army had installed the nation’s chief justice Adli Mansour as interim head of state until elections can be held, deposing the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Sitting behind Sisi were Coptic Pope Pope Tawadros II and Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s leading Christian and Muslim clerics, as well as liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the former International Atomic Energy Agency chief. Sisi said a roadmap had been agreed by a range of political groups and promised the formation of a national reconciliation committee that would include representatives of youth movements. The second largest Islamist party Al-Nour signaled its support for the process.
ElBaradei said the coup would “rectify the course of the revolution” that started more than two years ago with the removal of longtime president Hosni Mubarak.
The army chief of staff, who also serves as defense minister, said the Constitution, which was written by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhod and approved in a referendum last year, had been suspended. Many secular Egyptians opposed the law which they argued didn’t adequately protect the rights of minorities, including Christians and women.
Army troops and personnel were deployed in Egypt’s major cities on Wednesday after a deadline set by the military leadership for political reforms had passed without concessions from Morsi’s government. The president’s national security advisor accused the army of staging a coup while the vice president of his Islamist party said that “remnants of the former regime” were “trying to abort our glorious revolution and reinstate themselves.”
The army had issued Morsi an ultimatum on Monday, giving him 48 hours to meet the “people’s demands.” It was made a day after mass demonstrations swept Alexandria, Cairo and other cities and four non-Islamist cabinet ministers had resigned.
While the army insisted that it would “not be a party to the circle of politics or rule,” it vowed to present a “roadmap” of its own if Morsi failed to comply.
Despite the military’s call on all parties to “shoulder the responsibilities for the historical moment which the nation is going through,” opposition groups on Wednesday refused to meet with representatives of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood who, in turn, refused to speak to the military. Senior members of the armed forces did meet with opposition groups earlier in the day, they said.
In a televised speech Tuesday night, Morsi had rejected the army’s demands. “If the price of preserving the legitimacy is my blood, then I am ready to pay that willingly for the sake of this homeland and its stability,” he said.
A 51.7 percent majority of Egyptians elected Morsi in presidential elections last year but dissatisfaction with his Muslim Brotherhood’s economic mismanagement and attempts at desecularization brought millions of Egyptians to the streets again last week, two years after a similar uprising prompted the army to force Mubarak out of office.
The transitional government will face the very economic and fiscal challenges Morsi failed to cope with.
Ashraf Khalil writes for Foreign Affairs magazine that Qatar was one of the main backers of the Muslim Brotherhood government. “If Morsi is indeed ousted, that supply of vital Qatari largesse might just dry up,” he suggests, “leaving the transitional government scrambling for emergency relief.”
Egypt got $5 billion in aid from Libya and Qatar as recently as April, the same it owed oil companies. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which abhor the Muslim Brotherhood and were among the first countries to send congratulations to the interim government, might help plug the hole. But while Egypt is running a $32 billion annualized trade deficit, support from other Arab nations can give it no more than a few months of breathing room.
The United States suspended $1 billion in aid after violent protests took place outside their embassy in Cairo last year.