THE head of Egypt’s army last night gave a TV address announcing president Mohammed Morsi is no longer in office. General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi said the constitution had been suspended and the chief justice of the constitutional court would take on Mr Morsi’s powers.
Flanked by religious and opposition leaders, Gen Sisi said Mr Morsi had “failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people”.
Tens of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters in Cairo gave a huge cheer in response to the speech. The army’s move to depose the president follows four days of mass street demonstrations against Mr Morsi and an ultimatum issued by the military which expired on Wednesday afternoon.
TV stations belonging to Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood went off air at the end of the speech. Minutes later, a notice went up on Mr Morsi’s Facebook page denouncing the army move as a “military coup”.
Mr Morsi’s current whereabouts are unknown, but an unverified tweet claiming to be from him urged civilians and members of the military to uphold the law and the constitution.
Earlier in the day, several hundred soldiers with armoured vehicles staged a parade on a main road near the presidential palace in Cairo and security sources said Mr Morsi and the entire senior leadership of his Muslim Brotherhood were banned from leaving the country.
For the second time in just over two years of political upheaval, the country’s powerful army appears to be positioned to remove their leader. But this time, it would be removing a democratically-elected president, the first in Egypt’s history – making its move potentially explosive.
Mr Morsi had been reported by aides to be working at a Republican Guard barracks in a Cairo suburb, near his office. His movement from there was understood to be limited by the military.
“For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: military coup,” his national security adviser Essam El-Haddad said, warning of “considerable bloodshed”.
Military chiefs, vowing to restore order in a country racked by protests over Mr Morsi’s Islamist policies, earlier issued a call to battle in a statement headlined “The Final Hours”. They said they were willing to shed blood against “terrorists and fools” after Mr Morsi refused to give up his elected office following several days of massive public protests against his government.
Armoured vehicles took up position outside the state broadcasting headquarters on the bank of the River Nile. State TV is run by the information minister, a Muslim Brotherhood member appointed by Mr Morsi, and its coverage had largely been in favour of the government. But in the past few days, the coverage saw a marked shift, with more balanced reporting showing anti-Morsi protests along with those supporting him.
In a statement a few minutes before a 48-hour deadline for him to go issued by the military on Monday, Mr Morsi’s office said a coalition government could be part of a solution to overcome the political crisis. But opposition parties refused to negotiate with him and met instead with the commander of the armed forces.
As the ultimatum expired, hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square in central Cairo let off fireworks, cheered and waved flags.
Egyptian blogger Su Zee tweeted: “And in typical Egyptian fashion, #egypt is late for its own coup.”
The Arab world’s most populous nation has been in turmoil since the fall of Hosni Mubarak as Arab Spring uprisings took hold in early 2011.
Tunisians follow on with protest group
Tunisian opposition activists have now launched their own version of Egypt’s Tamarud protest movement, whose campaign to remove president Mohammed Morsi drew millions onto the streets this week.
The youthful, little known leaders of Tunisian Tamarud (Rebel) hope to galvanise opposition to their Islamist-led government which, like Mr Morsi, came to power after an uprising in 2011 swept an autocratic leader from office.
Like its Egyptian namesake, the Tunisian group accuses the Islamists of trying to usher in a religious state that smothers personal freedoms and failing to drag the economy out of crisis.
Its members said they planned to call for protests after gathering 200,000 signatures of people opposing the government.
That is a fraction of the 22 million signatures their Egyptian counterparts said they collected, but the Tunisian activists believe they can build momentum.
Tamarud spokesman Mohamed Bennour said: “We are not satisfied with what is happening in the country.”