CAIRO — The Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi from power Wednesday and suspended the constitution in moves it said were aimed at resolving the country’s debilitating political crisis.
In a televised address to the nation after a meeting with a group of civilian political and religious leaders, the head of the powerful armed forces, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, said the chief of Egypt’s constitutional court “will assume the presidency” on an interim basis until a new presidential election is held. Sissi said the interim president — Adly Mansour, Egypt’s top judicial authority — will have the right to decree laws during the transitional period.
The announcement came as huge crowds of pro- and anti-government protesters massed in the streets of Cairo and the army deployed armored vehicles. In the afternoon, a top adviser to the embattled Morsi had declared that a military coup was underway and warned that “considerable bloodshed” could ensue.
“Measures announced by the armed forces’ leadership represent a full coup, categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation,” Morsi tweeted from his official Twitter account Wednesday night following Sissi’s statement.
In a video apparently shot with a shaky cellphone camera, Morsi later declared that he was still the “the president of the republic” and said Egypt’s 2011 revolution against authoritarian rule had been “stolen.” The video, which did not reveal Morsi’s whereabouts, circulated on social media sites late Wednesday.
“They want to suspend this constitution, and I refuse that completely,” Morsi said.
After the military’s announcement, there were reports of scattered clashes and several deaths in some Cairo neighborhoods. News outlets said heavy gunfire erupted at a Morsi rally in Nasr City when supporters of the ousted president confronted troops in armored vehicles.
Liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei and the heads of Egypt’s Coptic church and highest Islamic institution, al-Azhar, also spoke Wednesday night, following Sissi.
“This will be the beginning of a new start for the 25th of January, that the Egyptian people have initiated to regain their freedom and dignity,” ElBaradei, who had been selected in recent days by other opposition activists to represent them, said in a short address. He referred to the date in 2011 that marked the beginning of the Egyptian revolution against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Until its announcement Wednesday night, the Egyptian military had denied that it was staging a coup. According to the official Middle East News Agency, top commanders were backing Muslim and Christian religious leaders, youth representatives and the head of the liberal opposition alliance in jointly presenting a “roadmap” for a political transition.
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Without mentioning Morsi by name in a heavily anticipated eight-minute speech at 9 p.m. Wednesday night, Sissi said the military had responded to the people’s demands in an act of “public service.”
“The armed forces have tried in recent months, both directly and indirectly, to contain the internal situation and to foster national reconciliation between the political powers, including the presidency,” Sissi said. But those efforts had failed, he said. The president, he added, “responded with negativity in the final minutes.”
In a meeting with “religious, political and youth symbols,” the military accepted a “roadmap that will achieve a strong Egyptian society that does not alienate any of its children or strains, and ends this division,” Sissi said.
He said a government of technocrats would be appointed to run the nation during the unspecified transition period. Sissi called on the Egyptian supreme court to establish election laws so that new parliamentary elections can be held.
The armed forces chief said a new media “code of ethics” would be adopted, establishing “values and ethics for the media to follow.” He did not elaborate.
Sissi said “peaceful protests” could continue, but he warned that the military would respond with “strength and determination” to any outbreaks of violence.
The announcement sparked cheers and celebration among Morsi opponents packed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
But in eastern Cairo, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, an entrenched Islamist movement that backs Morsi, erupted in angry chants following Sissi’s speech, and stones started flying. The Brotherhood’s two main political channels immediately vanished from the airwaves.
Fearing a further security breakdown, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Wednesday ordered the mandatory evacuation of all personnel deemed nonessential.
“We will begin departures immediately, with the expectation that all evacuees will have left for the States by this weekend,” embassy employees were told in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.