Egypt’s army was Thursday holding the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in detention, hours after abruptly forcing him out of office following days of deadly protests against his turbulent rule.
A senior military officer told AFP the army was “preventively” holding Morsi, whose government unravelled after the army gave him a 48-hour ultimatum in the wake of massive demonstrations against him on June 30, exactly a year into his rule.
Morsi’s defence minister, armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, announced Morsi’s overthrow on state television on Wednesday, even as police began rounding up key Morsi aides and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Warrants have been issued for the arrest of a total of 300 Brotherhood officials, state media reported.
Saad al-Katatni, head of the ousted president’s Freedom and Justice Party, and the Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide Rashad Bayoumi were arrested and transferred to prison, the official MENA news agency reported.
Thousands of protesters camped out on the streets of Cairo for days celebrated wildly through the night at the news of Morsi’s downfall, cheering, whistling, letting off firecrackers and honking car horns.
Egypt’s largely state-run press on Thursday unanimously hailed the army’s overthrow of Morsi as a “legitimate” revolution.
“The people’s legitimacy was victorious,” the flagship government-owned Al-Gomhuriya splashed on its front page.
In bold red font, the front-page headline in government-owned newspaper, Al-Ahram, read: “President ousted by revolutionary legitimacy.”
“And the people’s revolution was victorious,” read the main banner in state-owned Al-Akhbar.
Morsi’s opponents had accused him of failing the 2011 revolution that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak by concentrating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood.
His year in power was marked by a spiralling economic crisis, shortages in fuel and often deadly opposition protests.
His supporters say he inherited many problems from a corrupt regime, and that he should have been allowed to complete his term, which had been due to run until 2016.
The military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Morsi “is being held preventively for final preparations”.
He suggested the Islamist might face formal charges over accusations made by his opponents.
Morsi had been summoned for questioning by a court over his escape, along with other inmates, from prison during the revolt that overthrew Mubarak in 2011.
The military official suggested he may now be charged by prosecutors in the case.
Morsi was detained along with senior aides after issuing a defiant call for supporters to protect his elected “legitimacy”, in a recorded speech hours after the military announced his ouster.
“We had to confront it at some point, this threatening rhetoric,” the military officer said.
“He succeeded in creating enmity between Egyptians,” he added.
US President Barack Obama said he was “deeply concerned” over Morsi’s ouster and urged the army to refrain to “arbitrary arrests” of Morsi and his supporters.
In May, Washington approved $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. That was now under review, said Obama, as he called for a swift return to democratic rule.
In his speech, Sisi laid out details of the roadmap for a political transition.
The Islamist-drafted constitution would be frozen and presidential elections held early, he said, without specifying when.
The armed forces, which had deployed troops and armour across the country, would “remain far away from politics,” he stressed.
Egypt’s chief justice Adly al-Mansour will serve as interim president until new elections are held, according to the army’s plan.
Mansour, a hitherto little known judge, is expected to be sworn in on Thursday.
At least seven of Morsi’s supporters were killed in clashes with security forces in Alexandria and the eastern city of Marsa Matrouh during the night, security officials said.
The official MENA news agency reported three people also killed in the southern province of Minya when pro-Morsi supporters attacked the Islamist’s opponents.
Already in the week leading up to Morsi’s downfall , at least 50 people died in clashes between the Islamist’s supporters and opponents.
Aside from rounding up members of the Brotherhood, the the security forces had shut down broadcasts from the group’s television channel, a Morsi aide told AFP.
Staff of Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian affiliate were also arrested after the channel aired a defiant speech by the deposed president, the station reported.