After days of mounting speculation and brinkmanship, the Egyptian army carried out its threat to end the country’s crippling ideological divide by ousting President Mohamed Morsi — just over one year after he was inaugurated as the country’s first democratically elected civilian President.
Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sissi announced the move shortly after 9 p.m. Cairo time, following two hours of military deployment with soldiers and armored personal carriers taking up positions around the capital.
Flanked by an array of public figures including opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, Coptic Pope Tawadros II and sheik of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, al-Sissi — who was promoted to the position by Morsi last August — announced that Adli Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, would serve as a caretaker executive until a new presidential election could be held later this year. The constitution — which Morsi’s government rammed through with a rushed referendum in January, a divisive process that alienated large swaths of the public — has been suspended.
Al-Sissi’s announcement capped a year that has witnessed a devastating reversal of fortune for the Muslim Brotherhood, the historic Islamist group that seemed poised to be the prime beneficiary of Egypt’s post-Mubarak democratic windfall.
It captured a parliamentary majority only to see that parliament dissolved by the judiciary in the first salvo of what would turn out to be an extended war between the Brotherhood and Egyptian judiciary. The loss of the parliament was largely assuaged by the subsequent presidential victory by Morsi. But now it seems that has been snatched from the Brotherhood’s grasp as well.
Exactly how the Brotherhood will react to this maneuver now becomes the most crucial and immediate question facing Egypt. Earlier in the day, as thousands of Morsi supports rallied outside the Rabaa Adaweya mosque in the Cairo district of Nasr City, the Brotherhood cadres expressed an ironclad determination to fight and die for their cause if necessary.
“All of these people here are standing their ground,” said Ahmed Mourad, a 38-year-old engineer, who like many at the rally was wearing a construction helmet in anticipation of an attack. “There will blood on the streets tonight and the army — especially al-Sissi will be responsible.”
The mood at the Nasr City rally as the clock ticked down to zero on Wednesday was difficult to define — marked both by a dogged defiance and mounting helpless anger. Absolutely nobody would admit to being worried about what the rest of the day would bring, but most seemed increasingly angry and bitter. They complained that they have been sold a fraudulent vision of democracy — that they played by the rules only to be conspired against by the deep state and a cynical religion-hating opposition.
“There have been some mistakes,” Ahmed Mohammed, a 39-year-old lawyer and Morsi supporter, told me. “But if President Morsi is removed, it won’t be because of his mistakes. It will be because of a war against Islam.”
Many acknowledged the widespread popular anger on the streets against Morsi and the Brotherhood. What they couldn’t understand was why that anger wasn’t directed toward defeating the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in parliamentary elections — and then targeting Morsi in the next presidential election in 2016. They asked: Why did he have to go now? And why like this?
“I have an elected President. If he leaves it will be because of elections. I can’t accept that he leaves because of protests,” said Ayman Shaaban, a 31-year-old economics professor at al-Azhar University. “I know he is unpopular now. I wasn’t surprised by the crowds on June 30. If I was surprised then I wouldn’t have been living in Egypt for the past year.”
There has been a distinct difference between the rallies of the two opposing sides as this crisis has built since Sunday. The anti-Morsi protesters have been festive and optimistic, buoyed by a sense of momentum; the Morsi supporters defensive and a little paranoid. The Brotherhood people don’t just feel cheated; they feel hunted and persecuted. Their numbers in Nasr City have been robust and consistent. The Brotherhood has always been famously efficient at marshaling a crowd. But the pro-Morsi rallies have also been dwarfed by the size of the anti-Morsi rallies — a fact that became immediately and permanently clear on June 30 when the current protest wave began.
Around 4 p.m., an announcement from the main stage at the main pro-Morsi rally said that senior Brotherhood leaders had refused an invitation to meet with military and opposition officials to discuss some sort of transition plan. “We won’t negotiate under threat,” the announcer shouted as the crowd roared in approval.
It was probably too late for negotiations anyway. About 90 minutes after the deadline had passed, the army mobilization began. Soldiers and armored personal carriers deployed around the city — particularly around the pro-Morsi rallies. State TV reported that Morsi and several other senior Brotherhood leaders had been hit with a travel ban.
But the day’s clearest sign that the writing was on the wall for Morsi came unexpectedly from the Brotherhood itself.
Around 6 p.m. — an hour after the army’s ultimatum deadline — Essam al-Haddad, Morsi’s senior foreign policy adviser, posted a long statement on the presidential office’s Facebook page. It read like a mournful, bitter and frustrated eulogy for the Morsi administration and the era of the Muslim Brotherhood in power. Ominously, it also sounded like the manifesto of an organization that might just decide to give up on the idea of accomplishing its goals through the ballot box.
“As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page. For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: military coup,” al-Haddad wrote. “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.”
Khalil is a Cairo-based journalist and author of Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation.