(CNSNews.com) – Egypt’s armed forces ousted President Mohammed Morsi on Wednesday, bringing to an end a year of Muslim Brotherhood rule that many Egyptians said did not meet the promise offered by the country’s first democratically-elected administration.
President Obama said he was “deeply concerned” by the move. He urged the military “to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically-elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters.”
Army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi announced that the chief justice of the Constitutional Court would serve as interim president until new elections are held. The controversial new national constitution was also being suspended.
Coming after four days of mass demonstrations demanding Morsi’s removal and early elections, the news was met by scenes of jubilation, with large crowds celebrating in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
Troops had been deployed earlier at landmarks, key intersections and at the locations of pro-Morsi counter-demonstrations. Around 40 Egyptians have been killed in clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents since Sunday.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Morsi condemned the military for carrying out what he called a “full coup,” an action he said was “unacceptable to all free men of our nation who struggled to turn Egypt into a democratic civil society.”
Whether the military’s move is seen to meet the legal definition of a coup d’etat will be a crucial issue in the coming hours and days.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki earlier Wednesday declined to respond to questions on the coup issue, saying she would not engage in speculation or “get ahead of where we are in the process or where things are on the ground.”
A day earlier, Psaki agreed that there are specific legal requirements relating to the provision of U.S. aid to countries where a coup has taken place.
In his statement, Obama did not use the word “coup,” but he did say he had directed aides to review the implications for U.S. assistance to Egypt.
When Honduras’ military removed President Manuel Zelaya from power in 2009, the Obama administration said the action amounted to a coup, froze all non-humanitarian aid, revoked Honduran officials’ visas, and supported a decision by the Organization of American States to expel Honduras.
(It did so in that case despite arguments that the military was acting on orders from the Supreme Court, after Zelaya had violated the constitution by planning a referendum to amend presidential term limits.)
Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid annually, a commitment tied to the peace agreement it signed with Israel in 1979. This year it is line to receive an additional $250 million in budget support and democracy promotion funds.
After President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 Congress set human rights and democracy conditions on military aid.
Despite concerns about what Morsi opponents call the “Brotherhoodization” of Egypt, and a crackdown on democracy-promoting non-governmental organzations, Secretary of State John Kerry last May waived those conditions, citing U.S. national security interests.
Facing allegations from Morsi opponents that the administration has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, U.S. officials have stated repeatedly in recent months that it is not backing “any side” in the political conflict in Egypt.
Obama made the point again in his statement Wednesday.
“The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law,” he said.
“Since the current unrest in Egypt began, we have called on all parties to work together to address the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people, in accordance with the democratic process, and without recourse to violence or the use of force.”
Concerns of possible disruptions to oil supplies as a result of the turmoil in Egypt saw oil rise to a 14-month high Wednesday.