CAIRO – Egypt's first democratically elected president was ousted Wednesday by the military after barely a year in office, felled by the same kind of popular revolt that first brought him to power in the Arab Spring.
The armed forces announced it would install a temporary civilian government to replace Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who denounced the action as a "full coup" by the generals. They also suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and called for new elections.
Millions of anti-Morsi protesters in cities around the country erupted in delirious scenes of joy after the televised announcement by the army chief. Fireworks burst over crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where men and women danced, shouting, "God is great" and "Long live Egypt."
"Don't ask me if I am happy, just look around you at all those people, young and old, they are all happy," said 25-year-old protester Mohammed Nageh.
"For the first time, people have really won their liberty."
Fearing a violent reaction by Morsi's Islamist supporters, the military sent troops and armored vehicles into streets of Cairo and elsewhere, surrounding Islamist rallies. The head of the political wing of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood was arrested.
Clashes quickly erupted in several provincial cities when Islamists fired on police, with at least nine killed in the battles, security officials said.
The army's move is the second time in Egypt's 2 1/2 years of turmoil that it has forced out the country's leader. In the first, it pushed out autocrat Hosni Mubarak after the massive uprising against its rule.
Its new move came after a stunning four-day anti-Morsi revolt that brought protests even larger than those of 2011, fueled by public anger that Morsi was giving too much power to his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and had failed to tackle the country's mounting economic problems.
This time, however, its removal of an elected figure could be more explosive. Beyond fears over violence, even some protesters are concerned whether an army-installed administration can lead to real democracy.
In Washington, President Barack Obama urged Egypt's military to "move quickly" to return authority to an elected civilian government. He said he was ordering the U.S. government to assess what the military's actions meant for U.S. foreign aid to Egypt – $1.5 billion a year in military and economic assistance.
In conversations, senior Egyptian military officers assured U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they would put a civilian government in place quickly, U.S. officials said.
Moments after military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi spoke, Morsi said the military's measures "represent a full coup categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation," while urging "everyone to adhere to peacefulness and avoid shedding blood of fellow countrymen."
Morsi has insisted his legitimacy as an elected president must not be violated or Egypt could be thrown into violence. Some of his Islamist backers, tens of thousands of whom took to the streets in recent days, have vowed to fight to the end – to defend both the legitimacy of the vote and their ambitions to bring Islamist rule to Egypt.
"Down with military rule. Revolution, Islamic revolution, against el-Sissi and the thugs," the crowd of thousands chanted at the main pro-Morsi rally in Cairo after the army announcement.
The army has insisted it is not carrying out a coup but rather is acting on the will of the people to clear the way for a new leadership.
In his speech, Gen. el-Sissi said the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, would step in as interim president until new elections take place. A government of technocrats would be formed with "full powers" to run the country.
Mansour, appointed to the court by Mubarak but elevated to the chief justice post by Morsi, will be sworn in today.
El-Sissi, the defense minister appointed by Morsi, promised "not to exclude anyone or any movement" from further steps. But he did not define the length of the transition period or when presidential elections would be held. He also did not mention any role for the military.
The constitution, drafted by Morsi's Islamist allies, was temporarily suspended, and a panel of experts and representatives of all political movements will consider amendments. He did not say whether a referendum would be held to ratify the changes.
Seeking to avert a destabilizing backlash, el-Sissi warned that the armed forces and police will deal "decisively" with violence.
The military also took firm moves on the ground. After its 9:20 p.m. announcement, the Muslim Brotherhood's TV station went blank. Islamist TV networks that have been accused of inciting violence also went off the air, and some of their prominent anchors have been arrested, officials said.