DEBKAfile Special Report July 3, 2013, 10:36 PM (IDT)
Egypt's army takes control of Cairo
In his tensely-awaited televised statement, Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Khalil Al-Sisi announced Wednesday night, July 3, that the head of the constitution court will act as provisional president and form an interim government of technocrats to run the country until early presidential and parliamentary elections. He was flanked by Christian, secular opposition and Muslim leaders. Al-Sisi said that all the army’s efforts to effect a national dialogue and reconciliation were welcomed by all factions and blocked by President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. On hearing the announcement, Tahrir Square exploded in a frenzy of fireworks and shouts of jubilation which quickly spread across Egypt.
Sources in Cairo report that top Muslim Brotherhood officials will be tried for “crimes” committed during their year in office. Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and the remaining ministers have left their offices with their possessions.
Defense minister Gen. El-Sisi spent the afternoon conferring with leading politicians and clerics. Muslim Brotherhood leaders refused to attend.
Tuesday night, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi rejected the Defense Minister‘s demand that he quit to avert a bloodbath. He said he stood by his “constitutional dignity and demanded the army’s withdrawal of its ultimatum. Sixteen people were killed in three separate violent clashes after the speech between supporters and opponents of the Islamist president. Another huge anti-government took place in Alexandria as well as other Egyptian cities.
Military circles indicated that to defuse the crisis the army would force the regime to transfer ruling authority to an interim council made up of citizens and technocrats and entrusted with drafting a new constitution and preparing early elections for president.
Those sources did not disclose what would happen to Morsi and whether he would stay on in the meantime as a figurehead president without executive powers.
President Morsi and the Muslim Brothers are hardly likely to lie down for this roadmap out of the crisis, because it would mean relinquishing power after just one year, at the end of decades of being pushed to the fringes of Egypt’s political scene.
But there is not much they can do. Their call to turn out and demonstrate for the Islamic flag Tuesday brought out their own followers and no one else, whereas the opposition is not only backed by millions of assorted groups but has now gained the support of the army, the police, the security service and the intelligence agency.
Tuesday morning, US President Barack Obama and Chief of US General Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey intervened in the Egyptian crisis early Tuesday, July 2, in an attempt to save the besieged President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Obama called the Egyptian president and Gen. Dempsey phoned Chief of staff Gen. Sedki Sobhi, hoping to defuse the three-way crisis between the regime, the army and the protest movement before it gets out of hand.
The crash of Morsi’s presidency would seriously undermine the objectives of the Arab Revolt pursued by the Obama administration as the arch-stone of his Middle East policy.
The administration had earlier sought unsuccessfully to persuade the heads of the Egyptian army not to issue its 48-hour ultimatum to Egypt’s rulers “heed the will of the people” by Wednesday afternoon - or else the army would intervene. The Americans proposed instead to leave Morsi in place after stripping him of presidential authority and installing a transitional government to prepare the country for new elections to the presidency and parliament.
Debkafile’s Middle East sources report that the army chiefs led by Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi rejected the American proposal.
Obama promised to back steps taken by President Morsi to show he is “responsive to the opposition’s concerns,” while Gen. Dempsey asked Egyptian generals to moderate their stand against the Muslim Brotherhood. The underlying message was that if they failed to do so, Washington might reconsider its $1.3 billion annual military assistance package which is the main source of income for the armed forces.
Heartened by the US president’s vote of support, Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamic allies, rejected the army’s ultimatum for resolving the country’s deadly crisis, saying it would sow confusion and ran contrary to the Egyptian constitution.
Morsi insisted he would stick to his own plans for national reconciliation.
His regime is meanwhile crumbling: Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr resigned early Tuesday, the sixth minister to quit the government in the last 24 hours. He follows the president’s military adviser Gen. Sami Anan, former chief of staff under President Hosni Mubarak. Senior judges and high police officers were seen taking part in the anti-government protest rallies of the last week.
Morsi and the Brotherhood now face two ultimatums: If by Tuesday afternoon, he has not agreed to step down and call an early election, the organizers of the protest movement, which has brought millions to the streets of Egyptian cities, will launch a relentless and anarchic campaign of civil disobedience. The defense minister says the army will intervene if the government fails “to heed the will of the people” by Wednesday afternoon.