Originally published in The Evening Standard, 4 July 2013
The military’s 48-hour ultimatum to Mohamed Morsi came and went — and there was nothing.
Locals joked that their generals were maintaining a long tradition of sluggish Egyptian time-keeping. State television carried on broadcasting as if everything was normal. But then the coup began.
Reports emerged late in the afternoon that troops were being dispatched across the capital. Armoured personnel carriers soon turned up in Nasr City, the suburb of eastern Cairo where the President’s supporters had been rallying since Sunday.
Perhaps still unable to believe that their beloved military would move against them, some of the protesters clambered onto the APCs to mingle with officers. Others chanted the slogan which once rung out before former autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled: “The army and the people on one hand!” But these troops had not arrived to make allies of the Islamists.
A few miles west at Cairo University, another centre of pro-Morsi protest, more soldiers and armoured vehicles appeared, cutting off the surrounding roads and forming a human cordon across one of the main Nile bridges. “This is a military coup,” said one Morsi supporter, shaking his head in disbelief. “We will not accept it.”
Eventually the head of Egypt’s armed forces, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, appeared on television. His announcement, although expected, was nevertheless a bombshell.
Mohamed Morsi, the man elected only a year ago as President, was being culled by his own commanders. A top judge would be appointed in his place and a government of technocrats selected to run the country for an undetermined period. Elections would follow.
It was, in no uncertain terms, a military coup — but a coup which has the full backing of millions of Egyptians. Over the past weeks, many of them had come to the realisation that only the generals could rid them of the Muslim Brotherhood.
There were extraordinary scenes early today as hundreds of thousands of jubilant opposition supporters transformed central Cairo into a giant street party. Roads were grid-locked as crowds poured into the streets waving flags and sounding horns. The last time the capital witnessed such scenes was when Mubarak fell. He too was pushed out by his generals following a breath-taking display of street power.
After the initial jubilation, however, many politicians and activists began to baulk at the numerous human rights abuses committed by the newly-empowered military council. Many of those same politicians actively courted the events which unfolded into the early hours of this morning.
But huge question marks remain. A backlash by the Islamists, who feel grievously cheated, may have already begun — at least 14 people were killed in nationwide clashes following the coup announcement. Battles were still raging into the early hours of this morning.
The authorities may also initiate their own crackdown. One state newspaper reported last night that an arrest warrant had been issued for 300 Brotherhood members following the military’s intervention. It sets the stage for further critical confrontations over the coming months.