RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene. Good morning. Egypt has a new ruler - again. A caretaker head of state was sworn into power today following yesterday's dramatic military coup. He replaces President Mohamed Morsi, who was forced from power just a year after winning the country's first free election. Morsi lost the public's trust amid a failing economy and fears that he was imposing an Islamist agenda. For Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, this was a startling rise and fall, but the party remains influential and a tense Egypt is waiting to see how the Brotherhood responds. NPR's Leila Fadel reports.
ABDEL FATTAH EL SISI: (Foreign language spoken)
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Despite the warnings that something big was coming, with those words by Military Chief Abdel Fattah el Sisi, the Egyptian military's maneuvers to unseat President Mohammed Morsi was a jarring reversal of fortune for the Muslim Brotherhood. Government authorities shut down at least three Islamist channels, including the Brotherhood's, and arrested the journalists. The state news agency said that some 300 top Brotherhood members would be arrested; and members of the group's political bureau were also slapped with travel bans. And just like that, the president - the same man who'd defiantly asserted his legitimacy in a speech the night before - went silent. For hours, no one could say for certain where he was until confirmation came that he was detained. Constitutionally, he was the commander-in-chief of the military. Practically, he'd been rendered powerless. Brotherhood leadership called the coup and the arrests an assault on democracy and a return to repression. It's a feeling they knew all too well from decades spent under constant surveillance and persecution from former President Hosni Mubarak and his predecessors. As scores of people celebrated the coup outside the presidential palace, military helicopters flew above. Such jubilation was echoed across the country. But Morsi supporters were downcast and furious. After all, the country voted, their candidate had won, so what right did anyone have to remove him, they asked.
SHEHATA ABDO HUSSEIN: (foreign language spoken)
FADEL: Shehata Abdo Hussein is a young student who voted for Morsi. He isn't a member of the Brotherhood and we spoke to him just before Morsi was overthrown.
HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: The first democratically elected civilian president must continue his term in peace, he says, unless the military wants us to be Syria. He refers to the bloody civil war in Syria. Already at least 58 people were killed since mass protests began June 30th. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo ordered all its nonessential personnel to leave the country and urged Americans to avoid Egypt until calm is restored. Sidelining the single biggest and best-organized political bloc in the country surely will have consequences, explained Khalil al Anani, an expert on Islamist movements.
KHALIL AL ANANI: Many Islamists now perceive democracy as a bad solution, because they have tried democracy and they did not get anything from democracy but to be marginalized and excluded.
FADEL: He adds that the Brotherhood is convinced that the coup was preplanned as a conspiracy against the organization and its Islamic project, a claim Anani dismisses. Morsi was ousted for incompetence, not because he's an Islamist, he says. The paranoia stems from their history of repression from being thrown in jail in the 1950s under the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, to the arrests and torture under former president Hosni Mubarak. Maybe because of their fearful past they were trying too hard to consolidate power. Heba Morayef is the human rights watch director for Egypt.
HEBA MORAYEF: Morsi lost the trust of the voter base that was necessary for his electoral victory. And from a human rights perspective, overall, Morsi continued a lot of the Mubarak-era practices.
FADEL: And all this while the poor were getting poorer and life was generally getting worse for the average Egyptian. Morsi began tailoring his rhetoric more and more to his Islamist base. In his final days, his tone grew more defiant and increasingly conspiratorial. But despite his missteps, Morayef says a coup is a dangerous precedent to set. 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. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.