A week after the coup, Egyptians ask: Where’s Morsi?

It has been one week, and nobody knows where the former president of Egypt is. Mohamed Morsi is being detained, along with at least seven of his top aides, held incommunicado. The authorities promise, “He is in a safe place.” But safe where? They refuse to say. He has not been charged with any crime.

Authorities have issued arrest warrants for hundreds of other Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, including the group’s spiritual leader, known as the “supreme guide.” He and nine other senior Islamist officials were accused Wednesday of provoking the violence that led Egyptian security forces to fatally shoot more than 50 pro-Morsi demonstrators Monday.

The warrants come as authorities continue to round up the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, which saw its hold on the presidency and several top ministries end after 368 days when Morsi’s government was ousted last week in a military coup backed by millions of Egyptians who had taken to the streets.

The mass arrests and the continued detention of Morsi and his aides are exactly the type of behavior that the Obama administration has warned Egypt’s military leadership against. But the crackdown shows how little influence Washington has been able to exert here since the generals proved they remain the nation’s preeminent force.

Morsi himself was accused of selectively using the judicial system to prosecute opponents, as was his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in early 2011. Now human rights advocates say that Egypt’s new rulers may be doing the same.

“The biggest casualty of the last couple of years has been the idea of a neutral judiciary in Egypt, and in the last few days, that tradition continues,” said Heba Morayef, an Egypt researcher for the group Human Rights Watch.

Morayef said that in the Mubarak years, Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested for “membership in an illegal organization.” Now they are being arrested for allegedly inciting violence. “It is very clever,” she said, adding that there may be evidence to prove such charges in some cases but not in others.

A close relative of a top Morsi aide who disappeared on the night of the coup said the families of missing Brotherhood leaders have been unable to contact their loved ones since.

“My brother was allowed a couple of phone calls over the past week, just to say, ‘I am safe,’ and ‘I’m okay,’ ” said the relative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for the safety of those in detention. But when the relative pressed for more details, the answer was always, “I cannot say.”

“We don’t have any information on where they are,” the relative said. “We don’t have any information on who’s detaining them. We don’t have an accurate account of the numbers.”

The relative also said that the families of the detained have received phone calls from men who they think are working for Egypt’s security services. “They have been threatening the families not to seek any international support,” the relative said.

Ahmed Aly, a spokesman for the country’s armed forces, said Tuesday that Morsi and his aides had been moved from the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, where their supporters believed them to be, to an undisclosed location.

Gehad el-Haddad, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, tweeted that the arrest warrants issued Wednesday were a “politically motivated” attempt to dismantle the continued protests scattered across Cairo. Pro-Morsi demonstrators say they will maintain their vigil until he is reinstated.

Officials deny crackdown

Egyptian officials denied that a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is underway. “There are no exceptional measures being taken against any political force,” said Badr Abdelatty, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Those who are using violence will be dealt with within the existing judicial system. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Egypt’s justice system allows for imprisonment without trial for up to six months under a provision that lets prosecutors slap any suspect with repeated 15-day detentions.

An official at the Interior Ministry said that although arrest warrants were issued Wednesday for the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, and his deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, they were not yet in custody.

“This has to be done carefully,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to foreign reporters. He suggested that police were not ready to wrest Badie and Ezzat from the arms of their supporters.

Badie and the others were sought for “inciting violence” in connection with the Monday protest outside the Republican Guard headquarters that turned deadly, he said.

In a discussion with foreign reporters Wednesday, spokesmen for Egypt’s military, Foreign Ministry and state information service argued that Morsi’s ouster was not a coup and that Monday’s violence was not the military’s fault.

The officials showed reporters a video, set to dramatic music, that included a montage of aerial footage of anti-Morsi demonstrators on the day that millions demonstrated to call for his exit. Aly, the military’s spokesman, narrated over footage from Monday’s violence, which appeared to show pro-Morsi demonstrators opening fire on troops with birdshot and dropping pieces of broken toilet bowls off a rooftop.

Government spokesmen, however, did not provide video footage from the first two hours of the tumult — between 4 and 6 a.m. — when Brotherhood witnesses say security forces attacked them with live gunfire.

“We were not ready at 4 o’clock. We did not have our cameras ready,” Aly said.

When pressed about the location and condition of Morsi, government officials grew agitated. “He is not charged with anything up till now. But you know, the security situation — you have to put in mind public order,” Abdelatty said. “This is a country! The public order is at stake right now! People are inciting their followers to go to be martyred, to break into military establishments. So what are you asking for?”

The spokesmen showed video clips of pro-Morsi demonstrators threatening Egypt’s armed forces with violence and civil war. Brotherhood leaders have called for “an uprising” against the military, although they have also urged supporters to remain peaceful.

Transition plan criticized

The clash between the military and the Brotherhood has come as the country’s new civilian authorities have sought to project an air of normalcy. Interim President Adly Mansour on Tuesday appointed a new prime minister and vice president, and he outlined a path to quick elections, an amended constitution and a return to democracy.

That plan, however, continued to meet with criticism Wednesday — not only from the Brotherhood, but also from groups that had supported Morsi’s ouster. The National Salvation Front, an umbrella group representing Morsi’s political opponents, said Wednesday that it did not agree with all elements of the transition plan and that it had not been consulted. It stopped short of outright rejection.

Sharaf al-Hourani contributed to this report.

by Abigail Hauslohner

and Michael Birnbaum

CAIRO — Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and nine other top Islamist officials for allegedly instigating violence that led to the killing of more than 50 demonstrators Monday.

The arrest warrants for Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie and the others came a day after interim President Adly Mansour appointed a prime minister and vice president, moves designed to lend an air of normalcy to the country even as indications mounted that the president is little more than a civilian face for military rule. Mansour also has outlined a path to quick elections and a return to democracy after the July 3 coup that overthrew Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

Mansour’s plan was quickly condemned by Morsi’s supporters in the Brotherhood, but it elicited a lukewarm response from key players in the loose alliance of politicians and activists who had lobbied for Morsi’s ouster. One group that had been central to the anti-Morsi movement said it had not been consulted on the plan, which provides for few independent checks on the president’s power until a constitutional referendum and elections that are due within six months.

Egypt’s military insists that Morsi’s dismissal was not a coup and that civilians are firmly in charge. But events of the past week suggest that Mansour — who was a little-known judge before he was thrust into the presidency — remains subservient to the nation’s powerful generals.

Mansour did not make any public appearances on Tuesday to announce his moves, communicating instead through written statements and leaks to the news media. The commander of Egypt’s armed forces, however, did speak. In a recorded statement broadcast Tuesday on Egyptian television, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi told the nation that the new president’s declaration provided “more than enough assurance” that the country was moving in the right direction.

The road map outlined a “specific timetable for every step of the rebuilding of the constitution in a way that will guarantee and achieve the will of the people,” Sissi said. “And that means the landmarks of the path are determined and clear.”

The Obama administration has pressed Egypt’s generals to set a clear course for returning to democracy and has urged them to avoid arbitrary arrests or other acts of reprisal against the Brotherhood, an Islamist group that the military has long sought to oppress.

But nearly a week after Morsi’s ouster, he and a group of top aides remain cut off from the world, having been effectively detained without charge. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, including, on Wednesday, warrants for Badie, his deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, and eight others, a spokesman for Egypt’s Interior Ministry said. The men are wanted for questioning in connection with Monday’s events, the spokesman said. He would not say whether any of them had been taken into custody.

Two Islamist television channels thrown off the air in the minutes after Morsi’s ouster remained dark.

Badie and the others charged Wednesday are accused of inciting a crowd of pro-Morsi demonstrators outside the building where Morsi is believed to be in custody to attack Egyptian security forces. Egypt’s military has said that it was attacked by the demonstrators, and in response it opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 51. The Brotherhood denies that its demonstrators attacked the military, and has accused the military of carrying out “a massacre.”

Concerns in Washington

Mohamed Tawfik, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, on Tuesday made the rounds on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of lawmakers are calling for a suspension of Washington’s $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, most of which goes to the country’s military.

The Obama administration is working to keep Congress from seeking a cutoff of that aid, which is mandatory in the event of a military coup, a senior administration official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The legislation requiring suspension of aid in the event of a coup has no waiver provision. “Nobody wants to cut off assistance to Egypt,” the official said.

Tawfik said in an interview Tuesday that suspension of aid would be a “drastic mistake.” Although the amount is “not that significant,” he said, a cutoff of aid would have enormous symbolic and psychological effect on U.S.-Egypt relations.

Tawfik said U.S. lawmakers want to know that Egypt “is on a democratic track and not veering away from it.”

The appointments

Tuesday’s announcements in Cairo seemed tailored with that goal in mind. Mansour appointed Hazem el-Beblawi, a former finance minister, as the new prime minister, and he named liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei as the interim vice president.

ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, commands a popular following among young liberal activists but faces wide opposition among Egypt’s poorer and more conservative classes.

Beblawi served briefly as the country’s deputy prime minister in 2011, as the military guided the country through its rocky political transition after the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Liberal politicians and other anti-Morsi groups voiced support Tuesday for Beblawi, calling him a technocrat.

Beblawi “is a liberal economist, an academic and a politician, and he fits the technocrat description,” said Emad Gad, a leader of the Social Democratic Party and a political scientist at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank. “I think there will be a national agreement on this.”

Beblawi’s first job will probably be to try to revive the nation’s ailing economy. Long gas lines, rising prices, high unemployment and dangerously low foreign currency reserves contributed to the public antipathy toward Morsi.

In an interview with The Washington Post in October, Beblawi said that Morsi’s government knew “exactly what is required” to remedy Egypt’s spiraling economic woes but that it was struggling to find the political strategy to implement the measures.

Selling massive subsidy cuts to the public was akin to administering “a sour medicine,” Beblawi said. And Morsi and the Brotherhood didn’t have the “guts” to take such measures, he added.

Egypt received a much-needed boost to its finances Tuesday when Saudi Arabia pledged $5 billion in aid and the United Arab Emirates offered $3 billion, according to the state news agency.

Cracks in anti-Morsi alliance

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where a small crowd of anti-Morsi demonstrators continued to mill about, Egyptians said they were mostly pleased with the path their country was taking in the days since his fall.

“Any government that follows the Muslim Brotherhood will be more successful,” said Victor Shenouda, a businessman. “They are hated.”

But some cracks in the coalition of anti-Morsi forces were showing. The liberal activist group Tamarod, which helped mobilize the protests last week that contributed to his ouster, said on its Web site Tuesday that it had not been consulted ahead of Mansour’s constitutional declaration.

Tamarod said that because it was not consulted on the document, it would “hand the presidency our amendments today.”

Muslim Brotherhood officials, meanwhile, scoffed Tuesday at the political appointments and the constitutional road map and dismissed Mansour as a puppet of the military. Morsi supporters vowed to continue their protests, even as the families of those killed in Monday’s violence arrived at a Cairo morgue to carry their dead away.

“We have an approved constitution. The people voted on it. Why would you get rid of it?” said Hamza Zawbaa, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which has staged running sit-ins in three areas of Cairo since Morsi’s ouster. “The military took all the authority and put up Mr. Adly Mansour as a front.”

William Booth, Amro Hassan and Sharaf al-Hourani in Cairo and Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londoño in Washington contributed to this report.

by Abigail Hauslohner

and Michael Birnbaum

CAIRO — Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and nine other top Islamist officials for allegedly instigating violence that led to the killing of more than 50 demonstrators Monday.

The arrest warrants for Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie and the others came a day after interim President Adly Mansour appointed a prime minister and vice president, moves designed to lend an air of normalcy to the country even as indications mounted that the president is little more than a civilian face for military rule. Mansour also has outlined a path to quick elections and a return to democracy after the July 3 coup that overthrew Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

Mansour’s plan was quickly condemned by Morsi’s supporters in the Brotherhood, but it elicited a lukewarm response from key players in the loose alliance of politicians and activists who had lobbied for Morsi’s ouster. One group that had been central to the anti-Morsi movement said it had not been consulted on the plan, which provides for few independent checks on the president’s power until a constitutional referendum and elections that are due within six months.

Egypt’s military insists that Morsi’s dismissal was not a coup and that civilians are firmly in charge. But events of the past week suggest that Mansour — who was a little-known judge before he was thrust into the presidency — remains subservient to the nation’s powerful generals.

Mansour did not make any public appearances on Tuesday to announce his moves, communicating instead through written statements and leaks to the news media. The commander of Egypt’s armed forces, however, did speak. In a recorded statement broadcast Tuesday on Egyptian television, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi told the nation that the new president’s declaration provided “more than enough assurance” that the country was moving in the right direction.

The road map outlined a “specific timetable for every step of the rebuilding of the constitution in a way that will guarantee and achieve the will of the people,” Sissi said. “And that means the landmarks of the path are determined and clear.”

The Obama administration has pressed Egypt’s generals to set a clear course for returning to democracy and has urged them to avoid arbitrary arrests or other acts of reprisal against the Brotherhood, an Islamist group that the military has long sought to oppress.

But nearly a week after Morsi’s ouster, he and a group of top aides remain cut off from the world, having been effectively detained without charge. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, including, on Wednesday, warrants for Badie, his deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, and eight others, a spokesman for Egypt’s Interior Ministry said. The men are wanted for questioning in connection with Monday’s events, the spokesman said. He would not say whether any of them had been taken into custody.

Two Islamist television channels thrown off the air in the minutes after Morsi’s ouster remained dark.

Badie and the others charged Wednesday are accused of inciting a crowd of pro-Morsi demonstrators outside the building where Morsi is believed to be in custody to attack Egyptian security forces. Egypt’s military has said that it was attacked by the demonstrators, and in response it opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 51. The Brotherhood denies that its demonstrators attacked the military, and has accused the military of carrying out “a massacre.”

Concerns in Washington

Mohamed Tawfik, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, on Tuesday made the rounds on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of lawmakers are calling for a suspension of Washington’s $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, most of which goes to the country’s military.

The Obama administration is working to keep Congress from seeking a cutoff of that aid, which is mandatory in the event of a military coup, a senior administration official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The legislation requiring suspension of aid in the event of a coup has no waiver provision. “Nobody wants to cut off assistance to Egypt,” the official said.

Tawfik said in an interview Tuesday that suspension of aid would be a “drastic mistake.” Although the amount is “not that significant,” he said, a cutoff of aid would have enormous symbolic and psychological effect on U.S.-Egypt relations.

Tawfik said U.S. lawmakers want to know that Egypt “is on a democratic track and not veering away from it.”

The appointments

Tuesday’s announcements in Cairo seemed tailored with that goal in mind. Mansour appointed Hazem el-Beblawi, a former finance minister, as the new prime minister, and he named liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei as the interim vice president.

ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, commands a popular following among young liberal activists but faces wide opposition among Egypt’s poorer and more conservative classes.

Beblawi served briefly as the country’s deputy prime minister in 2011, as the military guided the country through its rocky political transition after the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Liberal politicians and other anti-Morsi groups voiced support Tuesday for Beblawi, calling him a technocrat.

Beblawi “is a liberal economist, an academic and a politician, and he fits the technocrat description,” said Emad Gad, a leader of the Social Democratic Party and a political scientist at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank. “I think there will be a national agreement on this.”

Beblawi’s first job will probably be to try to revive the nation’s ailing economy. Long gas lines, rising prices, high unemployment and dangerously low foreign currency reserves contributed to the public antipathy toward Morsi.

In an interview with The Washington Post in October, Beblawi said that Morsi’s government knew “exactly what is required” to remedy Egypt’s spiraling economic woes but that it was struggling to find the political strategy to implement the measures.

Selling massive subsidy cuts to the public was akin to administering “a sour medicine,” Beblawi said. And Morsi and the Brotherhood didn’t have the “guts” to take such measures, he added.

Egypt received a much-needed boost to its finances Tuesday when Saudi Arabia pledged $5 billion in aid and the United Arab Emirates offered $3 billion, according to the state news agency.

Cracks in anti-Morsi alliance

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where a small crowd of anti-Morsi demonstrators continued to mill about, Egyptians said they were mostly pleased with the path their country was taking in the days since his fall.

“Any government that follows the Muslim Brotherhood will be more successful,” said Victor Shenouda, a businessman. “They are hated.”

But some cracks in the coalition of anti-Morsi forces were showing. The liberal activist group Tamarod, which helped mobilize the protests last week that contributed to his ouster, said on its Web site Tuesday that it had not been consulted ahead of Mansour’s constitutional declaration.

Tamarod said that because it was not consulted on the document, it would “hand the presidency our amendments today.”

Muslim Brotherhood officials, meanwhile, scoffed Tuesday at the political appointments and the constitutional road map and dismissed Mansour as a puppet of the military. Morsi supporters vowed to continue their protests, even as the families of those killed in Monday’s violence arrived at a Cairo morgue to carry their dead away.

“We have an approved constitution. The people voted on it. Why would you get rid of it?” said Hamza Zawbaa, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which has staged running sit-ins in three areas of Cairo since Morsi’s ouster. “The military took all the authority and put up Mr. Adly Mansour as a front.”

William Booth, Amro Hassan and Sharaf al-Hourani in Cairo and Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londoño in Washington contributed to this report.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
Abigail Hauslohner has been The Post’s Cairo bureau chief since 2012. She served previously as a Middle East correspondent for Time magazine, and she has covered the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Michael Birnbaum is The Post’s Moscow bureau chief. He previously served as the Berlin correspondent and an education reporter.
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