Round-up of Muslim Brotherhood chiefs escalates

Egypt’s Islamists call on supporters to stage peaceful Friday demonstrations nationwide


Egyptian prosecutors escalated what appeared to be a widespread round-up of top Muslim Brotherhood members today, acting hours after the military deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist who became the country’s first democratically elected president just a year ago.

The round-up, which placed some Brotherhood members in the same prison holding Hosni Mubarak, the autocratic leader toppled in the 2011 revolution, came as the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, was sworn in as the acting head of state and an alliance of Islamists called on supporters to stage peaceful demonstrations nationwide tomorrow to protest against the ousting of Mr Morsi.

In a ceremony broadcast live on state television, Mr Mansour took the oath and praised the protesters whose mass demonstrations spurred the Egyptian military to depose Mr Morsi yesterday, suspend the constitution and install an interim government.

Mr Mansour said the actions in Egypt had “corrected the path of its glorious revolution”.

Both Mr Mansour and the National Salvation Front, an alliance of liberal and leftist parties that had pushed for Mr Morsi’s removal, offered an olive branch to his Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, saying the group was part of the spectrum of Egyptian society and should participate in an inclusive political process.

But the Muslim Brotherhood, which had long been banned in Egypt until the 2011 Arab Spring revolution and quickly shot to power under Mr Morsi, appeared to rule out any reconciliation, arguing that the military intervention was a coup that overthrew Egypt’s legitimate leader.

“We reject participation in any work with the usurper authorities,” Sheik Abdel Rahman al-Barr, an executive board member of the organisation, said in a statement on the group’s website, which also exhorted members to “show self-restraint and stay peaceful.”

A group called the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a coalition of Islamist parties including the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a call for “peaceful protests on Friday in all of Egypt’s provinces to denounce the military coup against legitimacy and in support of the legitimacy of President Morsi,” according to Ahram Online, the English-language website of Al Ahram, Egypt’s flagship newspaper.

Earlier today, Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered the arrest of the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood , Mohamed Badie, and his influential deputy, Khairat el-Shater, on charges of incitement to kill demonstrators. Egyptian media said Mr Badie was taken into custody.

The two Islamist leaders were suspected of playing a role in the deaths of eight protesters, six by gunshots, while a mob was attacking and burning the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo earlier this week, Egyptian media said.

Broadening crackdown

The arrests appeared to be part of a broadening crackdown on Mr Morsi and his political allies that included the arrests of dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members.

Shortly before Mr Mansour was sworn in, the skies over the capital, Cairo, filled with military jets in a series of fly-bys, news reports said. The state-run MENA news agency reported that the flights were meant to “celebrate the triumph of popular will”.

Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands of opponents of the government had gathered each night since Sunday to demand Mr Morsi’s removal, had erupted in fireworks and jubilation last night at the news of the ouster, but by today the city was reported to be calm.

The toppling of the Egyptian president has divided the Middle East, with Tunisia’s ruling Islamists denouncing it as a coup while Gulf Arab leaders celebrated.

The US expressed concern at the overthrow of the elected Mr Morsi and his Brotherhood and called for a swift return to democracy, as did the European Union. But they stopped short of calling it a coup, which might have led to sanctions.

The 54-nation African Union was likely to suspend Egypt for allowing “unconstitutional change”, a senior AU source said.

Across the Middle East, governments reacted to Mr Morsi’s fall in ways that reflected their embrace or loathing of political Islam.

“Military intervention is totally unacceptable and we call on Egypt to ensure that Morsi is physically protected,” said President Moncef Marzouki of Tunisia. The ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, condemned what it called a “coup against legitimacy”.

Ennahda’s rise closely mirrored that of Mr Morsi’s Brotherhood: both won power after Arab Spring revolutions toppled secular autocrats in Tunisia, then Egypt, in 2011. Since then the divide between secularists and Islamists, which helped to bring down Mr Morsi, has also widened in Tunisia.

Turkey, a secular Muslim nation rocked in recent weeks by anti-government protests, was harshly critical of Egypt’s army.

“It is unacceptable for a government that has come to power through democratic elections to be toppled through illicit means and, even more, a military coup,” foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

But for Gulf Arab states, which see Egypt as a strategic ally against any threat from non-Arab Iran across the Gulf, the appointment of constitutional court chief Adli Mansour as interim leader was met with congratulations and evident relief.

The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, spoke of his “consideration and satisfaction” in a cable to Mr Mansour.

Saudi King Abdullah sent a message of congratulations “in this critical period of ... history”. Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, was quoted as praising Egypt’s armed forces for the “positive and historic role” they played in preserving stability.

Diplomatic prestige

Qatar, the only Gulf Arab state that backed Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, switched tack by welcoming the new leader in an apparent attempt to salvage diplomatic prestige. The official news agency reported that cables of congratulation had been sent to Mr Mansour by Qatar’s new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Qatar has been a major financier of Islamist groups around the Arab World and had provided billions of dollars in aid to Egypt since the 2011 revolution that ended the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Iraq said it stood with the Egyptian people and was ready to “develop relations between the two brotherly countries on the highest level”.

But Iran, which sought to repair its strained ties with Egypt after Mr Morsi’s election a year ago, gave a guarded response.

“Certainly the resistant nation of Egypt will protect its independence and greatness from foreign and enemy opportunism during the difficult conditions that follow,” Fars news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi as saying.

Mr Morsi visited Tehran on one of his first official trips abroad, but the two countries have found themselves supporting opposite sides of a civil war in Syria that has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones.

Syria, fighting to crush a two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, urged Mr Morsi to step down yesterday, adding he should realise “that the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people reject him”, information minister Omran Zoabi said.

Neighbouring Israel avoided any show of satisfaction over Mr Morsi’s ouster, although a confidant of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed hope Mr Mansour’s appointment would lead to the restoration of largely frozen contacts with Cairo.

“Yesterday’s events strengthen the feeling that perhaps we have passed the bad period and perhaps now there will be a chance to have diplomatic ties with whomever will govern Egypt in the near future,” Tzachi Hanegbi told Army Radio.

Mr Morsi’s departure cheered western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction is at loggerheads with the militant group Hamas, an offshoot of Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Abbas had only words of praise for the Egyptian military, saying the armed forces had prevented Egypt’s “slide toward an unknown fate”.

Hamas reaction was muted to the fall of its sympathetic neighbour. A Hamas official, Ehab Ghussein, told Reuters: “We pray to God to preserve the security and the stability of Egypt and its people and to prevent bloodshed.”

New York Times/Reuters