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Morsi held by Egypt army; West has 'coup' dilemma

Agencies | Updated: 2013-07-04 14:47

CAIRO - Egypt's army was holding ousted President Mohamed Morsi at a military facility in Cairo on Thursday and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested in a crackdown on the movement that won several elections last year.

The United Nations, the United States and other world powers did not condemn Morsi's removal as a military coup. To do so might trigger sanctions. Army intervention was backed by millions of Egyptians, including liberal leaders and religious figures who expect new elections under a revised set of rules.

But as vast crowds partied on Cairo's Tahrir Square, hailing a "second revolution" to match the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Islamists feared a clampdown that revived memories of their sufferings under the old, military-backed regime. At least 14 people were killed and hundreds wounded in street clashes.

Television stations sympathetic to Morsi were taken off air.

Morsi himself was transported to the Defence Ministry, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad told Reuters. His aides were being held at the Republican Guard barracks where he spent his final day in office defying calls for him to resign but unable to forestall an ultimatum from the generals.

The fall of the first elected leader to emerge from the Arab Spring revolutions raised questions about the future of political Islam, which only lately seemed triumphant. Deeply divided, Egypt's 84 million people find themselves again a focus of concern in a region traumatised by the civil war in Syria.

Straddling the Suez Canal and a key piece in the security of Israel, many powers have an interest in Egypt's stability.

The army put combat troops and tanks on the streets around a gathering of hundreds of Morsi's supporters in Cairo. The military said it would keep order. Morsi called for there to be no violence.

Countdown

The clock started ticking for Morsi when millions took to the streets on Sunday to demand he resign. They accused his Brotherhood of hijacking the revolution, entrenching its power and - critically for many - failing to revive the economy.

That gave armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who already had his own reservations about the state of the nation under Morsi, a justification to invoke the "will of the people" and demand the president share power or step aside.

The United States and other Western allies had also pressed Morsi hard to open his administration to a broader mix of ideas.

Morsi railed on television about his electoral legitimacy. He called his liberal opponents bad losers, in league with those secretly still loyal to Mubarak. He pledged his life. Aides said he would prefer to "die standing like a tree." Liberal leaders said he was "losing his mind" and met to agree on a plan with Sisi.

What was unveiled by the general, in full uniform, flanked by politicians, officers and clergy, was a road map to wipe clear a slate of messy democratic reforms enacted since Mubarak fell. The constitution was suspended. The constitutional court chief justice, Adli Mansour, will be sworn in to replace Morsi at 10 am (0800 GMT).

A technocratic interim government will be formed, along with a panel for national reconciliation. The constitution will be reviewed. And presidential and parliamentary elections arranged.

There was no timetable. Liberal chief negotiator Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear agency chief, said the plan would "continue the revolution" of 2011. Many hope they can have more electoral success than last year, when the Brotherhood's organisation dominated the elections.

Its own ability to fight back democratically may be limited by the arrests of its leaders. They face accusations of inciting violence. Morsi may also face charges. His opponents accused him this week of fomenting "civil war" by defying Sisi's ultimatum.

The state newspaper said arrest warrants had been issued for 300 Brotherhood members.

Reaction

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a swift return to civilian rule, restraint and respect for civil rights.

He did not, however, condemn the military action. He said: "Many Egyptians in their protests have voiced deep frustrations and legitimate concerns ... At the same time, military interference in the affairs of any state is of concern."

US President Barack Obama, whose administration provides $1.3 billion a year to the Egyptian military, expressed concern about Morsi's removal and called for a swift return to a democratically elected civilian government. But he, too, stopped short of condemning a military move that could block US aid.

"During this uncertain period, we expect the military to ensure that the rights of all Egyptian men and women are protected, including the right to peaceful assembly, due process, and free and fair trials in civilian courts," he said.

Obama urged the new authorities to avoid arbitrary arrests and said US agencies would review whether the military action would trigger sanctions on aid. A senator involved in aid decisions said the United State would cut off its financial support if the intervention was deemed a military coup.

Much may depend on a strict definition of "coup."

Concerns over human rights have clouded US relations with Cairo, but did not stop aid flowing to Mubarak, or to Morsi.

The European Union, the biggest civilian aid donor to its near neighbour, also called for a rapid return to the democratic process. Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement that should mean "free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections and the approval of a constitution."

She stressed the need for inclusive politics but did not mention the constitution and elections already held in the past two years, whose results the armed forces have now cast aside.

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