Cairo’s Tahrir Square exploded with joy on Wednesday as the head of Egypt’s armed forces announced that Mohamed Morsy had been ousted as the country’s president following days of massive protests.
In a televised address to the nation, Egyptian Armed Forces Commander in Chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi announced that the head of the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court would be acting as president, supported by a national unity government until early elections are held.
“The armed forces have in recent months made great efforts, directly and indirectly, to contain the domestic situation and bring about national reconciliation between all political forces, including the presidency,” al-Sissi said, adding that calls for Mr Morsy to respond had been “rejected by the presidency at the last moment.” Speaking a few hours after the expiry of an ultimatum issued by the army, Mr Al-Sissi outlined details of a roadmap for the transition.
“The map contains the following: the constitution will be temporarily suspended; the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court will take the oath in front of the full body of the court; early presidential elections will be held,” said Mr Al—Sissi, who was flanked by Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Coptic Pope Tawadros II and military leaders.
As he spoke, fireworks were fired in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising that also toppled Mr Morsy’s predecessor, Hosny Mubarak.
Amid reports that the outgoing president had been transferred to an undisclosed location, Misr25, the television channel of Morsy’s Muslim Brotherhood, abruptly stopped transmissions.
Two hardline Islamist channels, Al-Hafez and Al-Nas, were also taken off the air immediately after the speech, state-run newspaper Al—Ahram reported.
The dramatic turn of events capped a day that saw the army’s 48-hour ultimatum pass and scores of protesters taking to the streets to await developments.
A senior advisor to Mr Morsy had earlier compared the army’s decision to a coup and had warned of the risks of “considerable bloodshed.” “For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup,” Essam al-Haddad, a presidential assistant for foreign relations and international cooperation wrote on his official Facebook page.
His comments came as the army deployed additional troops on the streets of Cairo and other cities. The army presence was particularly noticeable around areas where Morsi supporters had gathered.
Prominent opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed ElBaradei was among those who had been invited to attend talks with the army in the run up to the announcement.
The grassroots opposition Tamarod movement had earlier called on Egyptians to take to the streets to listen to what the army would say.
“The army’s statement will meet the people’s demands and aspirations,” said the ant-Morsy youth group.
The opposition had accused Mr Morsy of focusing on power and failing to improve economic and social conditions, more than two years after the revolution that forced Mubarak to step down.
“Legitimacy is the only guarantee of stability and resisting violence and thuggery,” Mr Morsy’s office said in a statement Wednesday.
Mr Morsy, who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June 2012, had vowed to stay in office at any cost, raising fears about wider street violence between his backers and opponents.
Politicians in Europe, meanwhile, cautioned the army against undermining the country’s nascent democracy.
“We can only warn Egypt against returning to a situation where the military dominates politics. This is not the democratic change the Egyptian people have demonstrated and fought for,” Hannes Swoboda, leader of the European Parliament’s Socialist faction, said in Strasbourg.