(JTA) — The Egyptian army removed President Mohamed Morsi from power amid mounting protests against the country’s first democratically elected leader.
Several hours after the expiration of a 48-hour ultimatum by the military ordering Morsi to respond to the demands of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in recent weeks, Defense Minister Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi said Wednesday evening that the army had fulfilled its “historic responsibility” and ousted the president.
In an announcement on state television, the military said it was not taking power for itself, but only ensuring that “confidence and stability are secured for the people,” The New York Times reported.
According to the Times, Al-Sisi outlined a plan for the post-Morsi era that would include the temporary suspension of the constitution and the appointment of the Supreme Constitutional Court to manage affairs of state until a new presidential election is held.
Faced with the military’s ultimatum, Morsi held firm in a defiant speech Tuesday night. But as the deadline passed, the military moved decisively to secure key government sites around Cairo.
With news of Morsi’s removal from power, fireworks exploded over Tahrir Square, CNN reported.
Tensions in Egypt have been mounting for weeks. Faced with a sputtering economy and shortages of basic necessities, Egyptians began to turn on Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood official elected to the presidency last summer. By late June, tens of thousands were filling Tahrir Square in central Cairo in an echo of the protests that swept longtime leader Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, paving the way for the country’s first democratic election.
In the months after his election, Morsi moved decisively to consolidate power. In November he granted himself unfettered power and canceled judicial oversight of his actions.
Israeli and Obama administration officials had no comment in the hours after the military’s announcement.
The first sign of possible U.S. action came from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the foreign operations subcommittee of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, and who said he would call for a review of U.S. assistance to Egypt.
Leahy said that Morsi was a “disappointment” who preferred “to govern by fiat,” but also noted that U.S. law mandated cutting off assistance in the case of a coup.
“Our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” Leahy said in a statement. “As we work on the new budget, my committee also will review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture. As the world’s oldest democracy, this is a time to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that transfers of power should be by the ballot, not by force of arms.”
The $1.8 billion in aid Egypt receives from the United States, much of it in the form of military assistance, has over the years been tied to Egypt’s observance of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.