CAIRO -- Egypts military took control of the country Wednesday, suspending the constitution and asking the head of the countrys high constitutional court to lead the nation in a transition period with a government comprised of technocrats.
In a somber announcement on national television, the countrys defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, announced that the military had taken the action because Egypts first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, had shown himself unwilling to meet the demands of a fractured opposition that had wanted him to step down.
Morsi did not meet the demands of the masses, said el-Sissi, who Morsi appointed minister of defense and commander of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in August 2012.
El-Sissi made no mention of Morsis whereabouts, but Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad tweeted early Thursday that he was under house arrest, as were most members of his presidential staff. News reports had said earlier in the day that the military had cut off all communication to Morsi. Various statements published online and attributed to him called what happened a military coup and urged his supporters to reject the militarys actions.
There were signs, however, that the military was moving quickly to stifle the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the once-outlawed Islamist organization through which Morsi gained prominence and that until Wednesday was thought to be the countrys most influential political organization.
In the hours leading up to the seven-minute announcement, the military surrounded roads leading to crowds of Morsi supporters whod rallied to the presidents calls that they defend him. Immediately after the announcement, police arrested crews from the Brotherhood television channel and other Islamist channels, state news reported. The Brotherhood channel went dark shortly after Morsis fall and did not return to the air.
There were also reports that some top Brotherhood officials had been arrested for involvement in a 2011 jailbreak that freed Morsi and 33 other Brotherhood leaders. On June 23, an Egyptian court had declared the prison break illegitimate; that ruling came down on the same day the military first issued a warning that it might be forced to intervene if Morsi and his opponents were unable to reconcile. The legal ramifications for Morsi of the ruling remain unclear.
The military also moved against the local arm of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-owned news channel, raiding its offices and ending its broadcasts.
Cairos streets, which had been crowded for three days by millions of demonstrators demanding Morsis resignation, exploded in celebration at the announcement.
But among Morsis backers the reaction was anger, and there were indications it could give way to violence.
In the Rabaa section of Cairo, a crowd of bitter Morsi supporters sprayed gunfire into the air and pledged to fight to preserve the Brotherhood's political gains. Many were armed with guns and sticks.
Jihad is our destiny, they chanted. Our revolution is Islamic, Islamic. . . . Dont worry Morsi, we are all with you.
Some added, Blood will drench all the streets of Egypt.
El-Sissi said the military took the step of removing Morsi after months of trying to persuade him to compromise with his opponents. He said the militarys efforts began in November, after Morsi declared himself exempt from judicial oversight. That declaration sparked demonstrations then.