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With President Mohammed Morsi out of sight and reportedly in military custody, Egypt has begun yet another dangerous new phase in its fitful transition to democracy. The nation is under the temporary leadership of interim President Adly Mansour. He and the military leaders who pushed Morsi from power now face the likelihood that the ousted president's supporters will — as some promised they would if he was removed from office — fight back.
Mansour, the 67-year-old chief justice of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, was formally installed in his new role early Thursday. He has been placed in his new post by the country's military, which on Wednesday removed Morsi from office just one year after he became Egypt's democratically elected leader. The military says Mansour will serve only until new elections can be held. It has also suspended the nation's constitution. As we reported Wednesday, President Obama says the U.S. is "deeply concerned" about the Egyptian military's actions, and he called on Egypt's generals to "move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government."
The coup came after several days of massive, sometimes violent, protests against Morsi's government. Millions of Egyptians took to the streets to express their anger over the country's deep economic problems and what they saw as the ineffectiveness of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues. It was an ironic fall for the president, who came to power in the wake of equally massive demonstrations in early 2011 that led to the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak's regime. As NPR's Greg Myre writes on the Parallels blog, the Arab Spring has become a roiling Arab Summer.
On Morning Edition, NPR Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel spoke with Heba Morayef, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.
"Morayef says a coup is a dangerous precedent to set," Leila reported. "Some Brotherhood supporters have resorted to violence across the country. As have opponents to the Brotherhood. And the country remains dangerously polarized as the political elite on both sides demonize the other, she says. Opponents to the Brotherhood refer to them as terrorists. Men have been dragged by their beards on the side of the road on suspicion of being in the Brotherhood, Morayef says, fearing that now the military is joining in."
Arrest warrants have been issued for at least 300 Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Also on Morning Edition, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson said the Egyptian military "has expressed great concern about keeping the peace and limiting the bloodshed" as Egyptians react to Wednesday's coup. "The fear is that if they don't ... go after these leaders, a resistance or a backlash will be organized."
But, Soraya added, Muslim Brotherhood members say the hunt for their members is a "return to the enmity of the past," when there was a crackdown on the Islamist group by the Mubarak regime.
"They are still out there" and taking their concerns to the streets, Soraya said of the Brotherhood's millions of members. "The question is, will they stay out there in large numbers" as the military clamps down?
We'll be watching the news from Egypt in coming days. In the meantime, here's what some other news outlets are saying in their headlines:
-- "Military Reasserts Its Allegiance To Its Privileges." (The New York Times)
-- "Despondent Scenes At Pro-Morsi Rally." (Al-Jazeera)
-- "The Cairo Question: 'Coup' Or Something Else?" (The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire)
8:53 p.m. ET. Military Vows To Protect The Right Of Protest:
Even as Egypt's military cracks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, it's vowing to protect the people's right to protest. Reuters reports:
The Egyptian armed forces said on Thursday they would not take arbitrary measures against any political group and would guarantee the right to protest, as long as demonstrations did not threaten national security.
The military posted a statement to Facebook, promising to avoid any "exceptional or arbitrary measures against any faction or political current." It continued:
"Peaceful protest and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed to everyone, which Egyptians have earned as one of the most important gains of their glorious revolution."
That promise might be put to the test in a few hours; the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for mass protests on Friday.
4:36 p.m. ET. Egypt Tells Kerry There Was No Military Coup:
Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr says the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi was not a military coup, Reuters reports. Amr spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of other nations on Thursday, calling Morsi's removal "the overwhelming will of the people."
Amr, who is serving as interim head of Egypt's foreign ministry, says the road map for new elections will also honor the people's will.
"There is no role, no political role whatsoever, for the military," he said. "This is the total opposite of a military coup."
America, Amr underlined, is a strategic partner for Egypt, and Kerry reportedly agreed:
"Kerry had assured him, Amr said, that Egypt was a strategic ally whose stability was important. Kerry also asked about human rights and the Egyptian minister said there would be no acts of vengeance against Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood."
Defining whether what happened was a coup or not is important, as the AP noted earlier this week; it could affect the $1.5 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt. It could also trigger economic sanctions.
10:55 a.m. ET. Morsi's Aides Also In Custody:
"The deposed president is currently in military custody along with 12 of his aides," correspondent Merrit Kennedy, who's in Cairo, tells our Newscast Desk.
10:30 a.m. ET. Reports: Muslim Brotherhood Leader Arrested:
An Egyptian security official tells NPR's Leila Fadel that Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie has been arrested. That mirrors reports from other news outlets, including The Associated Press, which says Badie has been flown to Cairo from a "resort village in Marsa Matrouh, a Mediterranean coastal city west of Cairo not far from the Libyan border."
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