Egyptians wave national flags as fireworks light the sky at Tahrir Square… (Amr Nabil, Associated Press )
CAIRO — The army pushed Egypt's first democratically elected president from power after days of massive street protests, acting swiftly to remove the Islamist leader in favor of a coalition government and calling for new elections to bring stability to this deeply polarized nation.
President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party, in power just a year, remained defiant, insisting that they continued to be Egypt's legitimate authority. Some of Morsi's supporters threatened violent retaliation, but the Islamists appeared to be overwhelmed by tanks in the boulevards and hundreds of thousands of protesters streaming through villages and cities.
Anti-Morsi protesters, honking horns, flying flags and flashing green lasers into the sky over the Nile crammed Tahrir Square in Cairo during hours of closed-door meetings and amid reports of troop movements. People across the capital silenced one another to listen to televised news bulletins. At the mosque where Islamists camped, men wept.
Fireworks exploded over the city when Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, commander of the armed forces, went on television late Wednesday to declare that Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, would replace Morsi. The court was one of Morsi's most potent enemies. The military, acting hours after the expiration of a 48-hour deadline it had given Morsi to restore stability, also scrapped the new Islamist-drafted constitution.
Sisi said Morsi "failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people."
He said religious and civilian leaders "have agreed on a road map for the future that includes initial steps to achieve the building of a strong Egyptian society that is cohesive and does not exclude anyone, and ends the state of tension and division."
In a matter of minutes, Sisi's terse words brought about the demise of the Brotherhood's effort to govern Egypt after decades as a potent but outlawed movement. It was the second time in two years that the army intervened in the country's turbulent politics, highlighting concern that Egypt's success at building a democracy would be determined more by the power of the street than by the ballot box.
"The procedures announced by the general command of the armed forces represent a full coup d'etat that is completely unacceptable," Morsi said on his Facebook page. He urged "all civil and military citizens to abide by the constitution and the law and to not respond to this coup, which drives Egypt backward."
But the military quickly tightened the circle around the deposed president, slapping travel bans on him and prominent Brotherhood members. The Egyptian media reported that Morsi was in "political isolation," perhaps under the jurisdiction of the army. His whereabouts could not be confirmed, and the state newspaper Al Ahram reported that arrest warrants were issued for 300 Brotherhood members.
The opposition greeted the military takeover as a chance to finish the 2011 revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power and briefly turned Egypt into the envy of the Arab world. But Morsi's supporters, including his compatriots in the Brotherhood, saw the army's gambit as something more sinister.
"As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page," Essam Haddad, a senior advisor to Morsi, wrote on Facebook. "For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let's call what is happening by its real name: military coup."
President Obama said he was concerned about Morsi's ouster, although he avoided describing it as a coup, which would trigger automatic cuts in U.S. aid to a longtime ally. But Obama did not call for Morsi to be returned to power, and he did not openly condemn the Egyptian military.
Some Islamist pro-Morsi demonstrators at a main Cairo mosque were in tears after Morsi's downfall. Others called for "dying in the name of God" while surrounding soldiers and chanting against Sisi. Clashes were reported late Wednesday in the coastal city of Alexandria.
"By what right does [Sisi] have the power to remove a democratically elected president?" said Mahmoud Gameel, standing outside the Rabaa Al Adaweya mosque in Cairo. "We will continue our sit-in ... all over Egypt until [Sisi] and his gang leave power. All they care about is money from the U.S. and Israel that is going into their pockets."
The opposition had accused Morsi and the Brotherhood of one-dimensional vision to create an Islamic state at the expense of fixing the country's many ills, including poverty, power outages, plummeting foreign reserves, rising crime and dwindling tourism. Morsi failed to understand the searing anger of the struggling poor and working classes that grew during his year in office.
"We want a better future, a better economy," said Riham Adel, a 28-year-old secretary protesting in Tahrir Square. "We don't want to be so divided and polarized. This is what the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi did to us."