Cairo, Egypt – The Egyptian army’s overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi’s government drove thousands of citizens to the streets in celebration until the early hours, but the region’s most populous nation now must deal with the coup’s implications for its nascent democracy.
Fireworks flared in the sky over Tahrir Square throughout the night as Egyptians reveled across the country following the military’s announcement that Morsi was no longer president.
“The people have toppled the regime”, chanted crowds roaming the streets. Vehicle horns honked and people waved Egyptian flags as national songs played loudly.
Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made the announcement that ended Morsi’s presidency after just one year in office. He also suspended the constitution that was drafted by Islamist powers, including Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and called for early elections following a transitional period. The interim government will be led by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Chief Justice Adly Mansour.
It’s a military coup with a popular cover. This is not a continuation of the original 2011 revolution but a counter revolution, and I don't think the near future would witness a true democracy for Egypt.
Mansour took oath of office Thursday before the constitutional court.
“It’s a military coup with a popular cover,” Khalil al-Anani, a political analyst at Dunham University, told Al Jazeera. “This is not a continuation of the original 2011 revolution but a counter revolution, and I don’t think the near future would witness a true democracy for Egypt.”
1-year in office
Morsi – who was being held on Thursday with senior aides by the military – was sworn in June 2012 following a slim victory against former president Hosni Mubarak’s aide Ahmed Shafik. Morsi’s one-year tenure was marred by repeated clashes with liberal and secular groups, who accused him of emboldening Islamists’ hold of the country, as well as failing to improve an ailing economy.
The army, denying that it staged a coup, said Morsi declined calls by Sisi to bridge mounting rifts with the opposition, which prompted it to finally side with the demands of the masses. The military has vowed not to play any role in politics, but some are sceptical of that pledge.
“The army was never away. What has happened is blatantly unconstitutional and the future does not look good,” Anani said.
A “roadmap” proposed by the military after consulting political and religious leaders, “is very theoretical, presents no clear timeframe for the next presidential elections, and we never know who will fill the vacuum”, said Anani.
Morsi, through his office’s Twitter account, dubbed the military’s move a “complete coup”. Clashes broke out across the country, killing at least 14 people and wounding dozens of others, according to health officials.
Some observers say clashes are likely to continue. “Low-intensity violence is bound to happen as Islamists resist this,” said Ashraf el-Sherif, a political science professor at the American University of Cairo.
“We cannot talk about constitutional correctness as we are on the threshold of a new and corrected revolutionary roadmap,” he said. “The military’s roadmap has brought Egypt back to square one. We are back to February 11, 2011.”
Democracy or autocracy
During the 2011 revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak, the army presented itself as “the guardian” of the people’s demands, and vowed to execute the revolution’s goals. At the time, the military was led by Mubarak’s longtime aide, Mohamed Hussien Tantawi.
|People celebrate outside the Presidential Palace [AFP]|
In the months that followed, repeated clashes between revolutionaries and the army resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries, as protesters accused Tantawi of derailing their revolt and siding with the Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Fears of repeating the same mistakes are legitimate as the opposition remains incompetent and the army is once again the backbone of a roadmap that is clearer than that of 2011, but is still being directed by them,” Sherif said.
He predicted a larger political role to be played by Mubarak-era figures in the period to come. “Truth is the future is still open. A democracy or an autocracy can be formed,” he said.
Shortly after Mansour was sworn in, Egyptian prosecutors ordered the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s top leader, Mohamed Badie, and his deputy, Khairat al-Shater, for incitement to kill protesters.
Since the declaration of the roadmap, hundreds of Brotherhood officials have reportedly been arrested, with many held in the Torah Prison in the capital Cairo, where Mubarak is currently kept.
Sherif said other Islamist parties will likely fill the vacuum with the Muslim Brotherhood now largely sidelined.
“The Brotherhood’s leadership will definitely be terminated and expelled, and a new leadership will emerge,” Sherif told Al Jazeera.
“It is still very early to guess what policies they will they adopt. Other political Islamic parties – such as the Nour and Salafi Call parties, which have showed goodwill in the recent period – will continue to participate strongly in the political arena.”
The army in a statement said Wednesday it would not accept any attacks on supporters of Morsi, and denied reports that force was used against them.
It remains to be seen what the coup’s fallout will be internationally. The United States provides Egypt with $1.5bn in military and economic aid annually, which now may be in jeopardy.
Egypt's military leaders say they have no intent or desire to govern, and I hope they make good on their promise. In the meantime, our law is clear: US aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed.
US President Barack Obama said he was “deeply concerned” by the military’s intervention. He called on the Egyptian army to quickly hand full power over to an elected civilian president.
Obama also ordered his administration to review the annual $1.5 billion in aid. According to US law, the White House is obligated to suspend grants to any country whose elected leader was toppled by a military coup.
US Senator Patrick Leahy is the chairman of the committee that handles foreign assistance. He said as the world’s oldest democracy, the United States needs to set an example, and rewarding a military takeover with $1.5bn goes against that.
“Egypt’s military leaders say they have no intent or desire to govern, and I hope they make good on their promise. In the meantime, our law is clear: US aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree … Transfers of power should be by the ballot, not by force of arms,” said Leahy.
But one analyst said he doubted Egypt would lose the US assistance.
“There will be lots of discussion and debate about the aid,” Paul Sullivan, Middle East expert at Georgetown University, told Al Jazeera. “Many politicians from left and right will pontificate on it, the media will make noise about it – Egypt will continue to get it most likely.”