Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after the army ousts the president. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
â€¢â€‰President ousted as army suspends constitution
â€¢â€‰Deposed leader declares ‘this is a full coup’
â€¢â€‰Military makes its move after day of tension
A polarised Egypt faced the most critical phase of its post-revolutionary life on Wednesday as Egypt’s army ousted the country’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and scheduled fresh elections in a what was labelled a “full coup”.
The chief of the armed forces, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, announced that he had suspended the constitution and would nominate the head of the constitutional court as interim president. Both presidential and parliamentary elections would follow shortly afterwards and a transitional cabinet would be named.
“We will build an Egyptian society that is strong and stable that will not exclude any one of its sons,” said Sisi, in front of a panel of Egyptians representing what was intended to be full spectrum of Egyptian life, including the Coptic pope, and the country’s most senior Muslim cleric.
A statement on the president’s Twitter and Facebook accounts labelled the military move a “full coup”.
The televised statement was met by rapturous applause and a spectacular fireworks display by thousands of protesters at the centre of the anti-Morsi revolt in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
It came hours after Sisi’s ultimatum for Morsi to solve the political crisis had passed without agreement. While there were scenes of jubilation in Tahrir Square, troops were setting up barricades in parts of the capital where pro-Morsi supporters were gathered.
Sisi’s silence earlier in the day had confused both the anti-Morsi gathering and the larger but more subdued rally of Morsi supporters. But the creeping presence of the military, which followed the release of a strongly-worded statement by Morsi’s national security adviser, Essam Haddad, seemed to confirm to both camps that the military was taking a new role in post-revolutionary Egypt. “For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: military coup,” said Haddad.
The momentous events capped a harrowing week for Morsi and his key support base, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had won the presidency in a democratic election held a year ago. Morsi’s support had been steadily whittled away over the past four days, with first the military, then the powerful police force and on Wednesday the state media abandoning him.
Earlier in the week, police failed to intervene after the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in east Cairo was besieged for 12 hours and later burnt down. On Wednesday, the interior ministry, which runs the police force, confirmed it was backing the military.
As night fell on Wednesday, Morsi was holed up in the offices of the Republican Guard in the east of the capital, under the protection of a unit that nominally falls under the jurisdiction of the president. Other soldiers nearby were erecting barbed wire barricades, in what was seen as an attempt to place restrictions on the movements of the elected leader. It was unclear if he was free to leave.
The US state department said it was not clear if a coup was under way, but suggested Morsi had not done enough to appease opposition groups that have demanded his exit. A state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said: “We believe all sides need to take steps to talk to each other and to lower the level of violence.
“We feel there was an absence of significant specific steps in Morsi’s statement [on Tuesday night]. He must do more to be truly responsive to the concerns of the Egyptian people.”
Sisi had spent much of Wednesday locked in meetings with his key generals and with senior religious and opposition figures, including the opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the country’s leading Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Tayeb, and the Coptic pope, Tawedros II. He did not meet Morsi, but had spent four hours with him on Tuesday discussing a power sharing plan. Morsi had repeatedly said he was willing to share power with his opponents and, after Sisi’s deadline had passed, again reiterated that he would agree to a national unity government and parliamentary elections within months. But Haddad, Morsi’s chief aide, made clear that the president was in the process of being ousted, and warned of its dire consequences.
“Today only one thing matters,” he wrote in a dramatic Facebook post that he noted would probably be his last in office. “In this day and age no military coup can succeed in the face of sizeable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?” He added: “There are still people in Egypt who believe in their right to make a democratic choice. Hundreds of thousands of them have gathered in support of democracy and the presidency. And they will not leave in the face of this attack.
“To move them, there will have to be violence. It will either come from the army, the police, or the hired mercenaries. Either way there will be considerable bloodshed. And the message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims.”
The gradual nature of Sisi’s actions seemed to confirm the army’s desire to be seen to be answering the will of the people, rather than enacting a unilateral military unilateral coup.
During Wednesday afternoon, Sisi held meetings with senior politicians, activists and religious leaders from across Egypt’s social spectrum. Military helicopters flew repeatedly over Tahrir Square â€“ setpieces that inevitably drew huge cheers, and which were intended to highlight popular support for military intervention.
Events indicated a rehabilitation of not just the army â€“ whose chequered 15-month tenure in office between February 2011 and June 2012 prompted unprecedented criticism of the military â€“ but the police, whose reputation took a battering in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising.
The police piggybacked on the popularity of the protests, releasing two statements on Tuesday and Wednesday backing the protests against the president. Many uniformed officers were seen taking part, with some dangling around their necks the red cards that have become a familiar indicator of anti-Morsi dissent in Egypt in recent weeks.
Having failed to protect the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood when it was destroyed earlier in the week, police were seen handing out juice to protesters near Tahrir Square. Earlier, the interior ministry, which runs the military, promised to remove a series of walls near its offices that have stagnated local life â€“ because of the removal, as they put it, of the “psychological barrier” between themselves and the Egyptian people.
Islamists saw Morsi’s removal as a betrayal of democracy. But for many in Tahrir it was a victory for people power. Opposition to Morsi had floundered until the founding of the Tamarod campaign in April. But the leaderless Tamarod, which gathered millions of signatures calling for Morsi’s removal in recent weeks, re-energised Morsi’s opponents, and built momentum for 30 June’s vast street protests, setting the stage for Morsi’s departure.