The Egyptian army presented a roadmap for change on Wednesday evening, announcing the suspension of the constitution and the creation of a technocrat interim government to replace President Mohammed Mursi.
“The armed forces have listened to the message and realized its necessity, so it approached the political scene while abiding by the limits of its duties,” General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in a televised speech, which was followed by statements by Coptic Pope Tawadros II, opposition leader Mohammed el-Baradei and Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar.
Sisi added that the army aimed to “contain the division in society and remove the polarization and division of Egyptian society.”
According to state newspaper al-Ahram, Mursi was informed by the army at around 5:00pm that he was no longer president.
In addition to the suspension of the constitution and the institution of an interim coalition government, the proposed roadmap includes early presidential and parliamentary elections and the formation of a diverse constitutional council,
According to the army, Mursi would be replaced by Adly Mansour, the president of the constitutional council.
“We hope that this roadmap is a new beginning for the January 25 [anti-Mubarak uprising] coalition for which the Egyptian people has paid a hard price in the name of social justice,” el-Baradei said.
A message on Mursi’s official Twitter account shortly thereafter categorically dismissed the army’s statement.
Egyptian security forces on imposed a travel ban on Mursi and several top Islamist allies over their involvement in a prison escape in 2011, security officials said. The ban comes as a controversial army deadline to impose a political solution expired, after a defiant Mursi vowed to see out his term regardless.
Airport officials confirmed to AFP that they had received orders to prevent the leaders – including Mursi, Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohammed Badie and his deputy Khairat al-Shater and at least 40 other Islamists– from traveling abroad.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Egyptians were in the streets on Wednesday across Egypt. Opponents of Mursi were setting off fireworks in raucous celebration in Tahrir Square, as supporters of the president appeared concerned about the recent turn of events.
In a Facebook statement, the office of the assistant to the president on foreign relations called the ongoing events a “military coup.”
“In this day and age no military coup can succeed in the face of sizeable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?,” Eassam al-Haddad, the national security adviser to Mursi, wrote.
At 6:00pm local time, half an hour after the ultimatum, the Egyptian army had still not issued a statement, leaving Egyptians unsure of what to expect from the situation.
Egyptian troops were securing the central Cairo studios of state television as the deadline neared, the head of state television and radio said.
Shoukry Abu Amira said in remarks carried by al-Ahram that Republican Guards had been securing and protecting the building for the past several days.
As the deadline approached when the army high command is expected to step in and reorder Egypt’s political institutions, security sources said staff not involved in working on live broadcasts had left the building.
Amira denied reports that the studios had been evacuated.
Security sources have said that armored vehicles are patrolling the streets outside the building.
Several hundred Egyptian soldiers paraded on a main road near the presidential palace accompanied by five armored vehicles, a Reuters witness said.
Military vehicles appeared to be moving in several key areas across Egypt.
The interior ministry warned that police would respond firmly to any violence after a week of bloodshed – which has now killed almost 50 people – intensified as Mursi supporters and opponents again squared off overnight.
Mursi’s opponents accuse him of having betrayed the revolution by concentrating power in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies and of sending the economy into a freefall.
His supporters say he inherited many problems, and that he should be allowed to complete his term, which runs until 2016.
As the clock ticked down on the army’s deadline for Mursi to meet the “people’s demands” by 4:30pm, Sisi held talks with top brass, a source close to the army told AFP.
Sisi, who is also the defense minister, later went into a meeting with Baradei, Pope Tawadros II and Sheikh al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning.
A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood said on Twitter that the political wing of the group, the Freedom and Justice Party, had declined to attend the meeting.
The crunch talks came as thousands of protesters opposed to Mursi massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, epicenter of the 2011 uprising, after the Islamist leader delivered a televised address to the nation rejecting calls for him to step down.
According to a joint statement by feminist and anti-sexual harassment organizations – including Nazra for Feminist Studies and Tahrir Bodyguard – at least 101 incidents of sexual harassment have been recorded since June 28 near Tahrir Square alone.
Confusion reigned on Wednesday, as reports abounded of Mursi being under house arrest before being quickly refuted.
Some of Mursi’s opponents have welcomed the army’s 48-hour ultimatum, which was followed by a spate of resignations from his cabinet.
But others accuse the generals of preparing a return to the unpopular military rule of the months between the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and Mursi’s swearing-in on June 30 last year.
Government daily al-Ahram reported details of the army’s demands.
Its plan provides for an interim administration, of up to one year, which would include the head of the supreme constitutional court and a senior army figure.
The controversial constitution, approved by Mursi’s Islamist allies in December, would be suspended for up to 12 months while a new one was drawn up and put to a referendum, before presidential and legislative elections.
The opposition June 30 Front coalition said it was ready to join urgent talks on the negotiated transition called for by the army.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s top judicial body confirmed on Wednesday the reinstatement of public prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmud, who was sacked by Mursi in November.
Mahmud was dismissed in November by presidential decree, and was replaced by Talaat Abdullah, who was accused of being a Muslim Brotherhood supporter.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)