By Alastair Macdonald
CAIRO (Reuters) - Don't mention the coup.
Certainly not on Tahrir Square, or pretty much anywhere in polite, liberal society in Egypt.
As military jets periodically screamed over Cairo, even performing a formation salute with colored smoke trails, many Egyptians took pains to stress that the toppling of their elected president, announced by a general, was not a "coup".
"A coup? No!" said Ahmed Eid, 19, a business studies student at Cairo University, as he and his friends snapped souvenir pictures of each other, draped in the national flag, on Tahrir Square. "This was our new revolution!"
"Our president was very bad. The army are our brothers."
For educated liberals in the capital, ending the year-long presidency of Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood was worth resorting to the national tradition of military force - even at the risk of the new democracy born out of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011's Arab Spring.
With foreign goodwill - and aid dollars - at risk, however, it is now imperative to show Mursi was wrong when - from the Republican Guard barracks where he is detained - he branded the manoeuvre against him "a total military coup".
Many outside Egypt found it hard to fault Mursi's logic. But Egyptians have proven creative in contradicting him.
Not a "coup" but a "popular impeachment" was one original expression, put forward by Amr Moussa.
A foreign minister under Mubarak, he now leads of one of the liberal parties that endorsed the "roadmap" back to democracy spelled out by the armed forces chief on Wednesday when he went on television, in full uniform, to suspend the constitution.
"Some Western media insist what happened in Egypt was a coup d'etat. In fact, this was unfair," Moussa, who headed the Arab League until two years ago, told Reuters - as military helicopters clattered overhead near the Nile riverbank.
"This was a popular uprising, a popular revolution," he added. "In fact it was a popular impeachment of the president."
The army did not take the initiative, he said, it heeded mass protests which put millions on the streets on Sunday.
"It didn't come as a result of a meeting between a few officers," he said. "It was the people who insisted."
A LITTLE UNDERSTANDING
The wild euphoria on Tahrir Square, reprising that which greeted Mubarak's end, offered support to that view.
"I hope that the response coming from Washington and ... from several Western capitals will be to understand," Moussa said, well aware that aid may depend on that. "Yes, indeed, former president Mursi was democratically elected but after that, his performance was ... against the will of the people."
Over at the Foreign Ministry, Mohamed Kamel Amr, a career diplomat who tendered his resignation as foreign minister to Mursi after Sunday's mass protests, is still in his office - he'll remain there now until an interim government arrives.
He was busy on Thursday, working the phones, calling U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry among others to insist that Washington should have no worries about cutting off aid to Cairo because "definitely what happened was not a military coup".
In Amr's view, "a military coup means the military will come, overthrow a civilian government and sit in their place".
"What happened actually is totally the opposite," he said. "There is ... no political role whatsoever, for the military.
"You cannot not tell me that this is a military coup. This is not a military coup. On the contrary, this is the total opposite of a military coup.
"This is not a military coup in any way."
Many outside observers, don't see it that way: "I understand Egyptians are sensitive about the word 'coup' because of the negative connotation," said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center. "But that doesn't change reality - it's a coup."
With aid on the line, it's not just semantics, he conceded.
But among the snack vendors, flags and post-party squalor of Tahrir on Thursday, in between barnstorming military fly-pasts, it was hard to find anyone ready to criticize the generals.
"The army are with us, with the revolution," laughed Katya Ramzi, 64, as she strolled, flag in hand, with daughter Heidi.
"This is not a coup."
(Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Peter Graff)