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2013 World News: Egypt

Violent Protests Lead to Ouster of Morsi and Crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood


Mohamed Morsi

Mohamed Morsi

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Violent protests erupted throughout Egypt on January 25, 2013, the second anniversary of the revolution. Demonstrators focused their ire on the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi's government, saying they were frustrated that the country was on an ideologically conservative path under the Islamists and that Morsi has failed to bolster the economy or fulfill promises to introduce broader civil liberties and social justice. As the protests continued and dozens of people were killed in the violence, Morsi declared a state of emergency in three large cities: Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said.

In March, Morsi called for early parliamentary elections, to be held in April. The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, said it would boycott the vote, claiming the elections would not be free or fair. A court, however, cancelled the election in early March, saying Morsi did not clear the election schedule with the his cabinet or the prime minister.

Morsi Deposed by Military After One Year in Office

Another round of anti-government protests took place on June 30, 2013, the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration. As many as one million people took the streets in the planned demonstrations and called for the president to step down. Protesters ranged from the poor to anti-Islamists to the wealthy and middle class. Their complaints against Morsi were far-reaching: the dismal state of the economy (high inflation, poverty and unemployment), Morsi's installation of members of the Muslim Brotherhood into many positions of power, his failure to stem the sectarian divide between Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians, among other issues. The protests continued on July 1, and the military issued a statement saying they would step in if Morsi did not respond to the protesters in 48 hours. On July 4, the military deposed Morsi and suspended the constitution and said the move was an attempt at "national reconciliation" rather than a coup. Morsi, however, called it a "complete military coup.” He was arrested and taken into custody and several members of his inner circle were placed under house arrest. Adli Mansour, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, was sworn in as interim president and Mohamed ElBaradei, diplomat and opposition leader, became vice president. Mansour dismantled the Shura Council, the only functioning body of parliament. Thousands of Morsi supporters took to the streets of Cairo on July 5 in protests organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Troops and police fired on protesters during morning prayers on July, killing more than 50 Morsi supporters and wounding more than 300. Reports in the news media said the attack was unprovoked. However, the military said soldiers were fired at first. About 650 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested. The violence escalated the political crisis.

The day after the violence—the worst since the revolution began in 2011—the interim military government named Hazem el-Beblawy, a respected economist who supported the ouster of Mubarak, as prime minister and said a new constitution would be drafted and elections would be held within six months. The Muslim Brotherhood, however, rejected both the apppointment of Beblawy and the timeframe for a return to a civilian government. Most members of the opposition, ranging from liberals to conservative Islamists, called the timeframe unrealistic and poorly planned. On July 16, an interim government took office. It was composed mostly of left-leaning technocrats and three Christians and two women were given posts. Notably, there were no Islamists in Beblawy's cabinet. Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who organized the coup, was named deputy prime minister and retained his post as head of defense. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour party, which had backed the coup, rejected the new government. The government faced the overwhelming tasks of shoring up the economy, shepharding the country back to civilian rule, writing a new constitution, and holding elections within six months.

Military Brutally Cracks Down on Protesters

At the urging of Gen. Sisi, who wields more influence over the country than the interim government, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets on July 26 to show support for the military and to demand that the country "confront terrorism." The next day, members of the Muslim Brotherhood staged their own demonstration—a sit-in—in Cairo in support of Morsi, and police opened fire, killing more than 80 people and wounding several hundred. Despite the escalating violence, the Islamists continued the sit-ins and set up protest camps. On August 14 riot police raided the camps. They opened fire and used armored bulldozers, tear gas, snipers, and helicopters to clear the camps. Protesters threw rocks and burned tires in response. More than 500 people were killed, and the government declared a state of emergency. Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as vice president in protest of the military's action. President Barack Obama canceled joint military exercises between Egypt and the U.S. that were scheduled for September in response to the military's repressive and heavy-handed tactics. “While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual while civilians are being killed in the streets,” Obama said.

The crackdown and protests dragged on for several days, as both the military and Morsi's supporters vowed to continue their fight. Casualties mounted with more than 1,000 fatalities, most of whom were Morsi supporters. On Aug. 18, 36 Islamic militants in police custody were killed while being transported to prison on the outskirts of Cairo, and on Aug. 19 militants killed 24 police officers in the northern Sinai region. Foreign governments urged the military to use restraint, a plea largely ignored. While foreign officials deplored the heavy-handed tactics of the military, they were careful not to imply support for the protesters, recognizing that the interim government was the only hope for stability. On Aug. 19, police arrested Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, and charged him with incitement to murder. In addition, on the same day a court ordered that former president Hosni Mubarak be released from prison, saying the appeals process had reached an end. He was released from prison on Aug. 22 and placed under house arrest. The government of Morsi kept Mubarak in prison during the appeals process by adding new charges—a precedent Gen. Sisi evidently refused to follow.

By the end of August, the protests had mostly come to an end. After seven weeks of unrest, about 2,000 people were killed, including about 200 police officers, and about 1,500 members or sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood had been detained. In September, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters issued an injunction barring the Muslim Brotherhood from carrying out any activity in the country and confiscated its assests, effectively shutting down the organization. The turn of events called into question whether the 2011 revolution would be in vain. Indeed, all signs indicated that Egypt was headed back to becoming an authoritarian regime.

Violence erupted again in early October when members of the Muslim Brotherhood took the streets in Cairo and their peaceful protests were met with gunfire by riot police. More than 50 members of the brotherhood were killed. In response to the continued violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, President Obama announced that the U.S. would temporarily suspend financial and military aid to Egypt, including Apache helicopters, F-16 warplanes, and $260 million. In an attempt to maintain a strategic relationship with Egypt, the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to fight terrorism, train troops, and secure Egypt's borders and the Sinai.

Morsi's trial on charges of inciting the murder of protesters opened briefly in early November and was adjorned until January 2014. He denounced the court as illegitimate and proclaimed himself the leader of Egypt. Fourteen other defendants also appeared in court, and they as well as Morsi were held in a caged area of the courtroom.

A draft of the new constitution—replacing the one adopted under Morsi—was released in early December. While it includes provisions that protect citizens, including a ban on torture, human trafficking, and violence against women, the constitution expanded the powers of the police and security forces and the military. It also outlaws religious political parties, which means Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood would be banned.

—Beth Rowen

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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