Tanks roll down Cairo's boulevards in military coup as Morsi is ousted
The army said it wasn't a military coup. President Mohammed Morsi's cheering opponents, gathered once again in their hundreds of thousands, insisted it wasn't a military coup.
But when the Republican Guard occupied the television station and convoys of troops and tanks rolled down Cairo's main boulevards, the cheers from the flag-waving protesters looking on left no one in any doubt.
The deadline set by the army for Mr Morsi to solve the country's political crisis passed at 5pm yesterday, but by that time the two sides were no longer talking.
Initially, the army held back from a promised statement. But the Muslim Brotherhood certainly saw it as a coup. Mr Morsi gave up trying to persuade the defence minister he appointed a year ago, Gen Abdulfattah al-Sisi, to back off at lunchtime.
He pulled out of talks and left it to spokesmen to issue a vain appeal for the army to obey the orders of its supreme commander – Mr Morsi – and return to their barracks.
By that time the president was said to be inside the clubhouse of the Republican Guard – though again there was no confirmation – and was perhaps already under house arrest, in effect if not technically.
Orders were given at the airport for senior Brotherhood leaders including the president not to be allowed to leave the country. The coup officially happened at 9pm local time when Gen Sisi appeared on the nation's television screens and confirmed he had acted.
He justified his claim that this was merely some sort of technical intervention by insisting that he had no interest in taking power himself.
He promised fresh elections. But there was no explanation of what would happen if the Muslim Brotherhood won them. The implication of any action of this kind was that only those of whom the army approved would be allowed to win in future.
Earlier, one of Mr Morsi's closest aides, Essam el-Haddad, the foreign affairs adviser who has spent the last year touring the world presenting Egypt's new vision of itself to the forums of the powerful, was able to write a heartfelt and bitter letter to the nation. It was full of foreboding, and had the feel of a last will and testament.
"These may be the last lines I get to post on this page," he said.
"For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let's call what is happening by its real name: military coup."
He pointed out something that is on the minds of many watchers of Islamic jihad today, even if the Egyptian people seem oblivious to it: if Islamists are thrown out of office even when they have won elections universally acknowledged as free and fair, why should they bother with them?
"The message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear," he said. "Democracy is not for Muslims. I do not need to explain in detail the worldwide catastrophic ramifications of this message."
There were rumours last night that Mr Morsi would be charged with some crime: it is, in truth, hard to see what law he has broken, compared with the hundreds killed as Mr Mubarak clung on to power.
On the other hand, as so often, he seemed not only to have no answer to his critics, no solution to put forward to the crisis, but no clear sense that one was needed. He did not seem to think that the millions of people who had taken to the streets this week were a significant obstacle to his vision of Egypt.
He did not put forward any compromise for the people to sleep on, a fresh constitution, a new election, a unity government.
Oddly, he made those offers directly to Gen Sisi yesterday morning. But by then it was too late. The army had already begun talking to the opposition and they scented blood. They would accept nothing other than Mr Morsi's departure. Gen Sisi said no. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)