By Ben Wedeman. Jethro Mullen and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
CAIRO (CNN) — An uncertain new political order began to take shape in Egypt on Thursday, a day after the military deposed and reportedly detained the country’s first democratically elected president, put a top judge in his place and suspended the constitution.
The coup that toppled Mohamed Morsy as president on Wednesday prompted hundreds of thousands of people in the streets across Egypt to both applaud and assail the generals’ decision to step into the country’s political fray for the second time in a little over two years.
It also left a series of significant questions unanswered. What will happen to Morsy, who insists he remains the country’s legitimate leader, and his key supporters? Will the sporadic outbreaks of violence that reportedly killed at least 32 people on Wednesday spread into wider unrest? And what hopes remain for Egypt’s messy attempts to build a multiparty democracy?
“I don’t think that the military’s so-called road-map is actually going to move smoothly,” said Hani Sabra, director of the Middle Eastern arm of the Eurasia Group, a U.S.-based political risk research and consulting firm.
“I think there are a lot of challenges it faces,” Sabra said, noting the threat of more violence, possible divisions within the anti-Morsy coalition and Egypt’s economic woes.
On Thursday morning, Tahrir Square in Cairo was calm. The huge crowds that had celebrated Morsy’s ouster with horns, cheering, fireworks the night before had thinned out.
Morsy, a Western-educated Islamist elected a year ago, “did not achieve the goals of the people” and failed to meet the generals’ demands that he share power with his opposition, Egypt’s top military officer, Gen. Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, said in a televised speech to the nation Wednesday.
Adly Mansour, head of the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, replaces Morsy as Egypt’s interim president, El-Sisi said.
Mansour had become head of the court just two days earlier following a decree last month by Morsy. He was sworn in as interim president in Cairo on Thursday.
Speaking at the ceremony, Mansour said that the Egyptian people had given him the authority “to amend and correct” the revolution in 2011 that brought down the former ruler Hosni Mubarak.
New elections will be held at an unspecified date, and Mansour will have the power to issue constitutional declarations in the meantime, according to El-Sisi.
The military has not so far publicly commented on Morsy’s whereabouts. But Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad told CNN the deposed president was under “house arrest” at the presidential Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.
The state-run Middle East News Agency said the two top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party had been taken into custody, and another state-run outlet, the newspaper Al-Ahram, said another 300 were being sought by police.
The Egyptian military has dominated the country for six decades and took direct power for a year and a half after the ouster of Mubarak.
As demonstrations swelled this week against Morsy, who opponents have accused of authoritarianism and forcing through a conservative agenda, the military on Monday gave him 48 hours to order reforms.
Morsy’s approval ratings plummeted after his election in June 2012 as his government has failed to keep order or revive Egypt’s economy.
As the deadline neared Wednesday, he offered to form an interim coalition government to oversee parliamentary elections and revise the constitution that was enacted in January. But that failed to satisfy the generals.
The army’s move against Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood, the long-repressed political movement that propelled him to office, provoked wildly conflicting reactions.
In Tahrir Square, now the epicenter of two Egyptian upheavals, a vast gathering of Morsy’s opponents erupted in jubilation and fireworks when El-Sisi made his announcement.
“The crowd walked up to the barricades and started banging on them using rocks, sticks and even bare hands,” said Sultan Zaki Al-Saud in a CNN iReport. “It sounded like thunder as the hollow barricades rang with every blow.”
During his time in office, Morsy has squared off against Egypt’s judiciary, the media, the police and even artists.
Egyptians are also frustrated with rampant crime and a struggling economy that hasn’t shown improvement since Mubarak resigned. Unemployment remains high, food prices are rising and there are frequently electricity cuts and long fuel lines.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a leading opposition figure, said the plans announced by the military Wednesday were “a correction for the way of the revolution” that drove Mubarak from office.
But Abdoul Mawgoud Dardery, a former member of parliament allied with Morsy, criticized the military’s decision to take matters into their own hands.
“I don’t know how can anyone with common sense support a military coup in a democracy,” he said. Egyptians “will never recognize a coup d’etat,” he said.
That concern was echoed by outside observers.
“Popular protests are the sign of a robust democracy. But the change in an elected government should be at the ballot box, not through mob violence,” said Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Across the Nile River from Tahrir Square, Morsy supporters chanted “Down with military rule” and “The square has a million martyrs.”
One pro-Morsy protester in Cairo said he felt demonstrators would stay there “until Mohamed Morsy is once again president of Egypt.”
“We’re not violent, but at the end of the day we want peaceful change of power,” said El-Haddad, the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “But if democracy gets derailed every time that way, what other option is the people left with?”
‘The world is looking’
Morsy himself remained defiant.
“The world is looking at us today,” he said in a taped statement delivered to the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera. “We by ourselves can bypass the obstacles. We, the sons of Egypt, the sons of this country — this is the will of the people and cannot be canceled.”
Shortly after Morsy’s statement aired, Al Jazeera reported its Cairo studios were raided during a live broadcast on Wednesday and its presenter, guests and producers arrested.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the long-repressed political movement that propelled Morsy to office, said its broadcast outlets had been shut down.
El-Haddad told CNN that he has been told hundreds of names have been put on an “arrest list” but couldn’t confirm any arrests beyond those of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party chief, Saad el-Katatni, and its deputy, Rashad Al-Bayoumi.
“A return to Mubarak-era practices of mass arrests and politically-motivated imprisonment of Muslim Brotherhood leaders will have the worst possible effect on Egypt’s political future,” said Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based advocacy group.
Despite the apparent moves against the Brotherhood, the military suggested Thursday it would provide the movement’s members with protection. The military said it would not allow any attacks or intimidation against those who belong to an Islamic group, state-run Nile TV reported.
Morsy said he remains open to negotiations and dialogue, and he called on supporters to demonstrate peacefully.
But 32 people were killed in clashes in Egypt on Wednesday, health officials told Nile TV. Hundreds more were reported to have been injured.
The sporadic violence at times pitted Morsy’s supporters against the opposition and the military, raising fears of spiraling unrest.
Concerns of a backlash
Some observers warned of the risk of an extremist backlash.
“The major lesson that Islamists in the Middle East are likely to learn from this episode is that they will not be allowed to exercise power no matter how many compromises they make in both the domestic and foreign policy arenas,” said Mohammed Ayoob, Michigan State University professor emeritus of international relations.
“This is likely to push a substantial portion of mainstream Islamists into the arms of the extremists who reject democracy and ideological compromise,” Ayoob wrote for a CNN.com opinion piece.
The U.S. government, meanwhile, took a cautious stance on the upheaval.
President Barack Obama said the United States is “deeply concerned” by Morsy’s removal and the suspension of the constitution. But he stopped short of calling the military’s move a “coup.”
He also didn’t call upon the military to restore power to “the democratically elected civilian government,” but rather to “a democratically elected civilian government.” In other words, it need not be Morsy’s administration.
The situation in Cairo has created an uncomfortable policy scenario for the United states, which champions democratic principles.
Washington has supplied Egypt’s military with tens of billions in support and equipment over more than 30 years, and under U.S. law, that support could be cut off after a coup.
He said he had ordered “the relevant departments and agencies” to study what American law would mean for U.S. aid.
The German government was more emphatic in its assessment of the situation.
“This is a heavy setback for democracy in Egypt,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. “It is very urgent for Egypt to return to constitutional order as soon as possible.”
Whether that is likely to happen anytime soon remains to be seen.
–CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported from Cairo; Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong and Chelsea J. Carter from Atlanta. CNN’s Reza Sayah, Hamdi Alkhshali, Ivan Watson, Jill Dougherty, Dan Lothian, Amir Ahmed, Ali Younes, Schams Elwazer, Elise Labott, Ian Lee, Housam Ahmed and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.