WASHINGTON, July 5, 2013 – As American’s celebrate the birth of our nation, Egypt is struggling with democracy.
After a military coup, encouraged by some of the largest protests every seen, the generals swore in chief judge of the Supreme Constitutional Court Adly Mansour as interim president.
Speaking after the ceremony, the country’s new leader recognized the protestors whose massive demontrations prompted the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, saying they “united Egyptians.”
Protests against Morsi began last Sunday, the one year anniversary of his inaguration as a “democratically elected leader.” Protestors against Morsi claim he favors Islamists while ignoring critical problems in the country such as economic difficulties and government stagnation.
Protestors also accuse Morsi of autocratic actions and abusing his power.
The ouster of Morsi puts Egypt back under military rule, which effectively governed the country for decades. The question now is whether the military caretakers will work toward restoring Egypts constituion and moving the country toward full civilian government. It also focuses concern by other Arab countries who are watching Egypts uprising against Islamist rule.
“This is a new revolution,” said 20-year-old college student Islam Ihab, using the phrase widely repeated by President Mohammed Morsi’s opponents who refuse to describe his downfall as a coup.
Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers regard the miltiary action as a coup, while the opposition argues the military simply moved to enforce the will of the people.
To the protesters, removing Morsi is a revolutionary triumph. They hail it as an even greater victory than driving out Mubarak more than two years ago.
“The protesters have done everything they can to justify this as an act of progress and not one of regression,” said Sami al-Faraj, director of the Kuwait Center.
Shortly after swearing in Mansour, the military arrested Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie on suspicion of killing at least six protestors during the recent violence at the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. The building was burned earlier this week. However, a rebel told the Communities the violence was started from inside the headquarters, and not by protestors as claimed by the Brotherhood.
AUthorities have also issued a wanted list for 200 Brotherhood members and leaders of other Islamist groups. Misr, The Brotherhood’s television station, has been taken off the air along with several TV networks run by Islamists even amongst fears of an Islamist hardliners backlash. Morsi and his top aides are forbidden to leave the country.
The world has mixed reactions over the military intervention.
The UAE has acknowledged the country’s new military-led government while Turkey, which had aligned with Morsi, opposes it.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has curtailed the power of his own military and limited its involvement in politics, and likely wants to send a clear message to his own generals against intervention. Last month, Turkey faced its own demonstrations by a public dissatisfied with Erdogan’s authoritarian actions.
Last year, some 300 military officers were convicted for an alleged plot to topple Erdogan’s government. Their case is being appealed.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a televised statement that Morsi was deposed illegally through a “military coup.” He said democratically elected leaders should only be removed through elections.
Underscoring the importance he attached to ties with Egypt, Davutoglu said he had cut short a visit to Asia to return to Turkey for consultations with Erdogan on developments.
“The toppling of a government that came into office through democratic elections, through methods that are not legal — and what is worse, through a military coup — is unacceptable, no matter what the reasons,” Davutoglu said.
“It is important from the point of view of a national consensus that (leaders) who have been arrested are immediately released,” he said.
Davutoglu also called for the start of the election process so that power in Egypt is immediately returned to “elected authorities.”
The United Arab Emirates, one of the Arab world’s most outspoken critics of the Muslim Brotherhood, noted its “satisfaction” at the turn of events in Egypt, according to the official news agency WAM.
Gulf ally Qatar, however, was a main backer of Morsi’s government and had pledged up to $21 billion in investment and economic aid over the next five years in an effort to help alleviate the crushing economic downturn in Egypt. That financial plan is now in question.
Qatar’s new emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, congratulated interim President Mansour, suggesting support for the military move.
The UAE maintains a wary eye on its own Muslim Brotherhood. The country claims Islamist groups backed by the Muslim Brotherhood have sought to topple its Western-backed ruling system. Earlier this week, 69 people were convicted on coup plotting charges.
Another 30 suspects, including Egyptians, await trial for alleged links to Brotherhood networks.
Neighboring Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah also sent a congratulations message.
In Kuwait, which has a strong branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, some supporters denounced Morsi’s toppling as a dangerous precedent.
“Egypt’s democracy and the outcome of its decent, free elections, its freedoms and liberties are all under question after some people supported the army coup against democracy,” said a Muslim Brotherhood member and former parliament member in Kuwait, Faisal al-Meslim.
Here are a few questions and answers about the latest turmoil in the Arab world’s most populous country (Courtesy Associated Press).
Who is running Egypt?
The new interim president is little-known chief judge of the Supreme Constitutional Court Adly Mansour. He was appointed and installed by the armed forces after it forced Morsi’s ouster.
Mansour, 67, was appointed to the court by Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, but elevated to the chief justice post only two days before the Islamist leader was deposed.
After his swearing-in ceremony, Mansour delivered an address praising the massive street demonstrations that led to Morsi’s ouster but showed no sign of outreach to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. He suggested Morsi’s election had been tainted, saying, “I look forward to parliamentary and presidential elections held with the genuine and authentic will of the people.”
The military has insisted it is acting on the will of the people to clear the way for a new leadership and not carrying out a coup, but it has clearly positioned itself to maintain control during any unrest following Morsi’s ouster, launching a major crackdown against the deposed leader’s Muslim Brotherhood.
It also suspended the Islamist-backed constitution and dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament. While welcoming the military’s intervention to oust Morsi, some Egyptians are worried it will resort to heavy-handed measures and try to assert too much control as it was criticized for doing in the wake of Mubarak’s ouster.
Now, a government has to be picked and negotiations, which are likely to involve the military, are ongoing on possible candidates.
What is happening with Morsi?
Morsi has been detained in an unknown location since the generals pushed him out Wednesday. His family was not with him when he was detained and their whereabouts are unknown.
So far the army has released few details about whether the ousted leader will face any charges or what will happen to him, but he could face legal action related to a prison break that happened during the chaos during the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak in 2011, and possibly the death of protesters during his year in office.
At least a dozen of his senior aides and advisers are being held in what is described as house arrest.
How are Morsi’s supporters reacting?
The Muslim Brotherhood has insisted the military has carried out a coup and announced it wants nothing to do with the new political system. Thousands of Morsi’s supporters are rallying and holding a sit-in in eastern Cairo, chanting: “We say it loudly, Morsi is the president of the republic.”
How is the US responding?
The United States is handling the military overthrow of Morsi in delicate diplomatic terms, aware that the matter could affect billions of dollars in U.S. aid, national security and President Barack Obama’s credibility on promoting the democratic process around the world. The safety of Americans in the region was a particular concern. Obama notably avoided using the word “coup” in his carefully-crafted statement Wednesday night. That allowed him wiggle room to navigate a U.S. law that says the government must suspend foreign aid to any nation whose elected leader is ousted in a coup d’etat. The U.S. considers the $1.5 billion a year it sends Egypt to be a critical U.S. national security priority.
What does this change in leadership mean for peace and stability in the Middle East?
Morsi has been cool to Israel, but he also showed himself to be surprisingly pragmatic, allowing military cooperation to continue and sometimes serving as a moderating influence. Egypt last year brokered a cease fire between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that ended eight days of rocket fire and airstrikes. More recently, the Egyptian military has cracked down on arms smuggling into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
That is unlikely to change, and Israeli military officials say Egypt has moved forces into the volatile border area near Gaza to help contain militant threats. The price of oil, meanwhile, eased to below $101 a barrel Thursday after jumping higher on unrest in Egypt and signs of rising demand in the U.S.
What are the longer prospects for the future of democracy in Egypt?
If the armed forces statement holds true, then Egypt will have an elected parliament and president during this transition period. The military didn’t specify the length of the transitional period, but it is not likely to be more than a year.
The military also has temporarily suspended the Islamist-backed constitution while announcing the creation of a panel of experts to amend disputed articles in the charter, said to be violating rights and freedoms. No date has been set for a referendum on these amendments as is customary in Egypt in such cases.
There are fears among activists that Morsi’s ouster could usher in yet another era of army rule. However, the military statement did not include a role for the armed forces in politics.
The largest questions about Egypt’s political situation remain unknown. It is unclear whether the military will run government behind the scenes, whether the Muslim Brotherhood will retaliate or how long it will take Egypt to establish a democratic process that functions without military intervention.
Ironically, Egypt could still return to Muslim Brotherhood control. The movement remains the best-organized and strongest group in Egypt, positioning it to win elections. Egyptians could, however, decide not to vote for the Brotherhood after the experiment with Morsi as President.
(Associated Press contributed to this report)
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