Morsi's Ousting Prompts Strong Reactions Around Middle East

The immediate reaction to the military overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi reveals how political and religious fault lines have shifted in the region. Saudi Arabia, an Islamist theocracy, quickly praised the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Riyadh sees as a rival. Also cheering was Syria's Bashar al-Assad, whom the Saudis are trying to help force from power. Assad declared that the Egyptian coup marks "the fall of political Islam." Turkey, ruled by a party with roots in political Islam, voiced dismay at the developments, which echo the military coups that plagued Turkey from 1960 through the end of the 20th century. As in Egypt, the Turkish military was deeply entrenched in economic and political life, and analysts suggest that if history is any guide, Egyptians now face a long uncertain road ahead.

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The overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has provoked strong reactions around the Middle East. It reinforced concern about the Egyptian military's influence on the country's political and economic life. And some warn that religious movements will now abandon the ballot box and return to violence. But the events in Egypt have also exposed regional distrust of the Islamist organization that gave Morsi his base of support, the Muslim Brotherhood. NPR's Peter Kenyon is gauging regional reaction from his post in Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Those who view politics in the Arab Middle East as a competition between secular and Islamist forces may have been surprised to see King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the monarch of an Islamic theocracy, leading the cheers for the Egyptian army as it swept an Islamist president from power. The king was joined in that view by a man he's trying to topple from power, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who declared that Morsi's fall marks the end of political Islam.

The joining of these strange bedfellows, says analyst Michael Wahid Hanna with the Century Fund, reaffirms something not unknown, but perhaps underappreciated, that far from being a monolithic block, Islamist forces in the Middle East are a collection of diverse and often fractious movements.

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Saudi Arabia, in particular, has long been hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood. And for Saudi authorities, it has always been seen as a potential threat and has been repressed. The Muslim Brotherhood is not allowed to operate freely in Saudi Arabia.

KENYON: Among those condemning the military intervention in Egypt were Tunisia and Libya, both struggling to build new governments after Arab Spring uprisings. Islamist leaders there trying to promote democracy called the ouster of Egypt's elected president a disaster and a massive recruiting opportunity for jihadi militant groups.

They were joined in their dismay by Turkey, where a party with roots in political Islam has ruled for over a decade. As the Egyptian opposition and its backers scrambled to call Morsi's overthrow a recall, a popular impeachment, anything but a coup, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu was blunt.

AHMET DAVUTOGLU: (Through Interpreter) No matter what the reason, it is unacceptable for a government which has come to power through democratic elections to be toppled through illicit means and, even more, a military coup.

KENYON: There are, of course, national interests involved. The rise of Morsi brought Turkey a new regional ally who has now been swept from the stage. But there are also deep-seated memories at work here of a series of Turkish elections nullified by military coups. Now, after a decade in power, the devout Muslim Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has succeeded in bringing the powerful Turkish military to heel.

But Turks looking toward Cairo see a wearying reminder of what a long struggle it can be to remove a deeply entrenched military from political and economic life.

PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: I would really caution the Egyptian friends because once the military out of the Pandora Box, it is very difficult to put them in again.

KENYON: In a 2012 interview, the late Turkish author and analyst Mehmet Ali Birand said it took Turkey's civilian leaders decades to figure out that the key to survival is delivering strong economic growth, the surest way to solidify support of the people, which otherwise is usually short-lived.

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MEHMET ALI BIRAND: Today, they give you big hug. Tomorrow, they change. They want money. They want to feed their children. And so Egypt is going to have a very difficult period.

KENYON: Before he died, Birand said the massive challenge facing any Egyptian government is to bring back investors and create jobs while keeping the military from encroaching any further into the political arena.

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BIRAND: So my suggestion would be with the Turkish example, please don't give them too much confidence. Be sure that one day you will be obliged to tell them, thank you. Enough is enough. Go back to your barracks. Then the big fight will start.

KENYON: For now, Egyptians can't even see as far as the next election, let alone the kind of stability that will restore confidence in the country's staggering economy. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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