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As Millions Celebrate Morsi's Overthrow in Egypt, Five Things You Need Know About What Led to this Revolt

The military has taken over, installed an interim president, and placed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders under arrest.

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The armed forces have been buttressed since 1979 by U.S. military aid, receiving about $1.3 billion annually since 1987. The money has gone to buy fighter jets, tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopters and more. The aid, which will keep flowing as long as they maintain a peace treaty with Israel, has helped make the military a formidable force.

The armed forces stepped into the role of state rulers after they nudged Mubarak from power in 2011. They directly ruled over Egypt until Morsi was elected president, a a period marked by authoritarianism and human rights abuses. Still, they remain a popular force among the population, as can be seen by the chants of “the people and the army are one hand” that have echoed throughout the demonstrations. Morsi has tried to exert some authority over the military, dismissing the head of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military leaders who directly ruled after Mubarak's ouster, last August. But the new military rulers appointed by Morsi have now forced the democratically elected president out, with the consent of the majority of the population. Call it a popular coup. The military is now once again seen as the savior of the revolution.

On July 1, they gave Morsi an ultimatum--respond to the protesters, or step down. Morsi refused to accede to the military’s demands late July 2, saying that he was democratically elected and was the legitimate ruler of Egypt. That battle over the future of Egypt came to a head on July 3, when the military stepped in, sent tanks to the streets and placed travel bans on Morsi and other top Muslim Brotherhood officials. The military then deposed Morsi, and announced a path forward. The armed forces have stipulated that the Constitution passed under Morsi is suspended; that the head justice of the Constitutional Court is now interim president; and that new presidential elections will take place. In response, protesters who gathered in Tahrir Square erupted in jubilation and set off fireworks.

The Muslim Brotherhood has threatened to take to the streets in the event of a military-directed transition. What remains to be seen is whether an escalation in violence between the Muslim Brotherhood and opposing forces will break out as a result.

4. The Opposition

The diverse coalition driving the protest against Morsi is made up of the revolutionary camp--including liberals and leftists--ordinary Egyptians who support the military and, more strikingly, members of the old Mubarak regime.

Some have expressed wariness with other Egyptians’ support of the military. The army has been denounced by revolutionaries in Egypt for presiding over human rights abuses like torture and military trials of civilians. It also drew the ire of protesters when they killed 28 Coptic Christians in October, 2011, during a protest in Cairo.  But the Tamarod campaign, which spearheaded the current protests, has praised the military. “The army responding to the demands of the people crowns our movement,” said Tamarod spokesperson Mahmoud Badr, in welcoming the army's warning of intervention.

An intervention by the military might deliver some power to the opposition--a prospect the army could welcome as long as they maintain their own power. 

5. America’s Response

The U.S. has always played a crucial role in Egyptian politics. Since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter brokered a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, U.S. military aid has bought leverage over the Egyptian military.

But the relationship’s contours have changed somewhat since the revolution broke out. While the Obama administration initially continued to support Mubarak during the early days of the mass revolt, they quickly changed their tune once they realized that he was on his way out with the military nudging Mubarak along. They paid lip-service to the democratic process, all the while bolstering the Egyptian military--a thoroughly undemocratic institution.

 
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