Middle East

Gulf rulers greet new leader, others slam ‘coup’

An Egyptian man, bearing a toy tank on his head, holds a cross and a copy of the Koran, Islam's holy book, as people gather in Cairo's landmark Tahrir square after a night of celebrations following the toppling of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi on July 4, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

BEIRUT: Middle Eastern and world leaders were sharply split Thursday over the Egyptian military’s dramatic ouster of Mohammad Mursi from power – mirroring the divisions in the region over the Muslim Brotherhood. Gulf states widely welcomed the events Wednesday night, which saw army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announce the termination of Mursi’s rule in line with what he said was the will of millions of Egyptians, sparking jubilant celebrations in Tahrir Square and fury among Islamists in Cairo’s Nasr City.

Qatar, which has ploughed billions of dollars in aid into Egypt following the Islamist electoral victory last year, “will continue to respect the will and choice of the Egyptian people,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. The oil rich kingdom’s new emir, Sheikh Tamam bin Hamad al-Thani, also sent a cable of congratulations to interim leader Adly Mansour.

However, a pro-government newspaper in the city state warned the “coup” could lead to further violence.

Egypt has never before been in such a foggy situation. ... Every political and ideological group now thinks it has the right to rule,” a commentary in Asharq daily said.

Reflecting increased anti-Islamist sentiment in Egypt, Doha-based Al-Jazeera TV – a staunch proponent of Arab Spring movements – said late Wednesday that Egyptian security services stormed its Cairo offices and detained the channel’s chief.

The United Arab Emirates, a long-term critic of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Mursi hails, noted its “satisfaction” at the leader’s demise. “We followed with all consideration and satisfaction the national consensus that your brotherly country is witnessing, and which had played a prominent role in leading Egypt peacefully out of the crisis it had faced,” UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan said in a cable to Mansour.

Echoing the UAE, Kuwait’s ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah congratulated the Egyptian people and praised the role of the army. Sabah paid tribute to Egypt’s armed forces for the “positive and historic role” it played in preserving stability, KUNA state news agency said.

In turn, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah sent a message of congratulations late Wednesday “in this critical period of ... history,” and praised Sisi’s “wisdom” in dealing with the crisis.

Gulf countries have historically seen Egypt as a buffer to its chief foe, Iran.

Reaction in the Islamic Republic itself was more muted, with Fars news agency quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi as calling for the people’s “legitimate demands” to be met, but warning of “foreign and enemy opportunism.”

One of Mursi’s first state visits abroad was to Tehran, highlighting attempts to improve relations between the two regional powerhouses. However, Syria’s increasingly sectarian civil war strained ties between largely Shiite Iran and predominately Sunni Egypt.

Damascus, which is facing an uprising with a significant Islamist component, celebrated the politically diminished role of the Brotherhood.

“What is happening in Egypt is the fall of so-called political Islam,” Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview with the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper published Thursday. “This is the fate of anyone in the world who tries to use religion for political or factional interests.”

Turkey, a country that has strongly backed Syria’s rebels and has faced weeks of protest against its own Islamist-led government, was one of the strongest critics of Wednesday’s military maneuver.

“It is unacceptable for a government that has come to power through democratic elections to be toppled through illicit means and, even more, a military coup,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul.

Under Mursi, Egypt supported its ideological ally Hamas in the Gaza Strip, brokering a cease-fire between the movement and Israel in November 2012. However, the politically isolated Islamist movement was more cautious than Turkey in criticizing Mursi’s ouster.

“The [Hamas] movement does not interfere in Egyptian affairs [and has] no comment on the Egyptian army’s decision to isolate President Mursi,” Hamas MP Yahia Moussa said.

In Israel, ministers remained mum about Mursi’s ouster after apparently being instructed by Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from comment, AFP reported. But Likud lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi told Army Radio Thursday that “events strengthen the feeling that perhaps we have passed the bad period and perhaps now there will be a chance to have diplomatic ties with whomever will govern Egypt in the near future.”

Western nations and international bodies were widely cautious about welcoming the ouster of democratically elected president, while seeking to acknowledge the popular anger that sparked Mursi’s flight from power.

U.S. President Barack Obama avoided calling the events a coup and said a speedy return to a civilian-led government should be the priority.

“I now call on the Egyptian 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 Mursi and his supporters,” he said. “We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian armed forces to remove President Mursi and suspend the Egyptian constitution.”

Obama’s words resonated in Britain, where Foreign Minister William Hague said that although London did not support Sisi’s role in the political process, it would work with the interim leadership.

“We will always be clear that we don’t support military intervention but we will work with people in authority in Egypt. That is the practical reality of foreign policy,” he said.

Harsher comments came from Germany, where Foreign Minster Guido Westerwelle described the events as “a major setback for democracy.”

The European Union announced Thursday that it had no plans to reconsider its aid programs to the country, but EU sources said the financial support was dependent upon its progress toward democratic goals.

“I am not aware of any urgent plans to rethink our aid programs at the moment but ... the dust is still settling on what happened last night,” Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged a return to civilian rule in nation, and added that nonviolence and dialogue were essential in the coming days.

Egypt was also looking isolated in Africa, where the 54-nation African Union warned that it was likely to suspend Egypt for “allowing unconstitutional change,” a senior AU source told Reuters.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 05, 2013, on page 9.

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