CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt’s defense minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dismissed elected leader and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi Wednesday, announcing on state television that the armed forces had also dissolved parliament and suspended the country’s constitution.
The Brotherhood, its supporters, and many observers called the move a military coup. Immediately following the speech, private television channels either owned or operated by the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies were taken off the air.
Morsi’s whereabouts was unknown, though a recorded message was broadcast live to a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo Wednesday night. Security officials told media outlets Wednesday that Morsi and other top Brotherhood figures were banned from traveling outside the country.
Sisi said the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court run the country until a new president is elected in fresh polls. A technocrat government representing a cross-section of Egyptian society will be formed, he said, and a committee established to review the constitution.
He also granted the military arrest powers for “anyone who acts outside the law,” as armored personnel carriers deployed to strategic points across the Egyptian capital.
The Obama administration has not commented on Morsi's overthrow.
A packed Tahrir Square, where protesters first gathered in 2011 to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak, erupted in ecstatic celebration with fireworks, cheers and flag-waving at Sisi’s announcement. They first began demonstrating June 30, to mark the anniversary of Morsi’s first year in power.
Morsi, the country’s first-ever elected leader, fell out of favor with a series of moves many Egyptians perceived to be for the benefit of the Brotherhood. Egypt’s economy is also near collapse, and power and fuel shortage contributed to rising popular anger.
“They listened to the people’s demands,” 59-year-old Magda ElMagreapy said from a café near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo Wednesday night. “It’s a miracle.”
Egypt’s military first seized power in the wake of the 2011 uprising, presiding over a turbulent transition period during which the country continued to see widespread protests and the armed forces put 12,000 civilians on military trial.
“I’m afraid the army will want to control again,” said Ragda Mohamed in Tahrir Square. “But the people will stay in the streets.”
Morsi’s victory in last year’s election was hailed as a triumph over military rule. Less than two months after he was elected, Morsi forcibly retired the army’s two top generals whom had sought to clip his presidential powers.
Morsi appointed Sisi as the new defense minister. His Brotherhood movement later crafted a constitution that protected the army’s assets, but that was also written without input from the Coptic Church and other secular groups.
In a highly popular move that kicked-off the most serious opposition to Morsi, he issued in November a decree that placed all of his decisions outside judicial review.
But while the opposition cried foul, Morsi’s supporters say the former leader should only have been removed by democratic means.
They see the protesters as supporters of the old regime that hunted down and arrested Islamists, ensuring they would never reach power.
For them, this is an assault on democracy that reeks of the persecution of the pre-revolution era.
Many, including the Brotherhood’s top leaders, have said they are willing to sacrifice their lives or shed blood to defend Morsi’s legitimacy.
Witnesses and reporters at a pro-Morsi rally in Nasr City, a Cairo suburb, said they could hear gunshots following Sisi’s speech Wednesday night.
But elsewhere, the crowds were content.
“The young people have made a demand, and they achieved it,” 70-year-old Abdul Hassan said in Tahrir. “I feel safe now, the youth have a better future.”