CAIRO – Egypt’s military-backed interim leader named a new prime minister and won $8 billion in promises of aid from wealthy Arab allies in the Gulf on Tuesday in moves aimed at stabilizing a political transition less than a week after the army deposed the Islamist president.
The armed forces warned political factions that “maneuvering” must not hold up its ambitious fast-track timetable for new elections next year. The sharp message underlined how strongly the military is shepherding the process, even as liberal reform movements that backed its removal of Mohammed Morsi complained that now they are not being consulted in decision-making.
The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the plan, vowing to continue its street protests until ousted Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, is returned to power.
The appointment of economist Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister, along with the setting of the accelerated timetable, underlined the military’s determination to push ahead in the face of Islamist opposition and outrage over the killing of more than 50 Morsi supporters Monday.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provided a welcome boost for the new leadership. The two countries, both opponents of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, celebrated his ouster by showering the cash-strapped Egyptian government with promises of $8 billion in grants, loans and badly needed gas and oil.
In doing so, they are effectively stepping in for Qatar, a close ally of the Brotherhood, that gave his government several billion in aid. During Morsi’s year in office as Egypt’s first freely elected president, he and his officials toured multiple countries seeking cash to prop up rapidly draining foreign currency reserves and plug mounting deficits – at times getting a cold shoulder.
The developments underlined the pressures on the new leadership even with the country still in turmoil after what Morsi’s supporters have called a coup against democracy.
The military faces calls, from the U.S. and Western allies in particular, to show that civilians are in charge and Egypt is on a path toward a democratically based leadership. The nascent government will soon face demands that it tackle economic woes that mounted under Morsi, including fuel shortages, electricity cutoffs and inflation.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington is “cautiously encouraged” by the announcement of a plan to return to democratically elected government.
Still, several groups in the loose coalition participating in the political process were angered over the transition plan issued Monday by interim President Adly Mansour. His declaration set out a 7-month timetable for elections but also a truncated, temporary constitution laying out the division of powers in the meantime.
The top liberal political grouping, the National Salvation Front, rejected the plan late Tuesday. It said it was not consulted — “in violation of previous promises” — and that the declaration “lacks significant clauses while others need change or removal.” It did not elaborate but said it had presented Mansour with changes it seeks.
The secular, revolutionary youth movement Tamarod, which organized last week’s massive protests of Morsi, also criticized the plan, in part because it gives too much power to Mansour, including the power to issue laws. A post-Morsi plan put forward by Tamarod called for a largely ceremonial interim president with most power in the hands of the prime minister.
At the same time, Egypt remains deeply polarized with heightened fears of violence, especially after Monday’s shootings. The Brotherhood and Islamist allies say they are under siege by a military crackdown that has jailed five of their leaders and shut down their media outlets. Tens of thousands of Islamists massed for another day outside a Cairo mosque. The crowds waved pictures of Morsi and brought in flag-draped empty coffins representing the slain protesters.
The Brotherhood said the new transition plan “confirms that those who carried out the coup, the dictator generals, don’t respect the will of the people.”
Still, there was not the huge nationwide turnout that Brotherhood leaders had called for after the killings. Also, for the first time since even before the June 30 protests began, Cairo’s Tahrir Square — where Morsi’s opponents were centered — was largely without crowds.
That could in part reflect the fact that people are preparing for the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday, when Muslims begin 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset.
It is not clear if Ramadan will significantly calm the street. The fast cuts down on activity during the day, but the demonstrations have been largely nocturnal affairs anyway. The Islamist camp will likely use it to rally its base.
Mansour called for a reconciliation process called “One People” to begin in Ramadan, traditionally a period for Muslims to promote unity. It called for parties and movements to hold meetings. There was no sign the Brotherhood and its allies would attend, much like Morsi’s opponents rejected his calls for dialogue, which were dismissed as empty gestures.
The interim president’s spokesman, Ahmed el-Musalamani, said posts in the new Cabinet would be offered to the Islamist camp — including to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi Al-Nour Party. He spoke to Egypt’s privately owned CBC TV channel in remarks also carried by the state news agency. El-Beblawi is to start forming a Cabinet on Wednesday.
The statement by armed forces chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi against political maneuvering underlined how the military — while it says it is staying out of politics — remains a powerful presence in a transition ostensibly being led by Mansour and a collection of political factions.
“The future of the nation is too important and sacred for maneuvers or hindrance, whatever the justifications,” el-Sissi said in the statement, read on state TV. “The people and, behind it, the armed forces don’t want anyone to stray from the right path or deviate from the boundaries of safety and security, driven by selfishness or ... zealousness.”
A spokesman for Mansour announced the appointment of el-Beblawi as prime minister and of pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a leader of the National Salvation Front, as vice president.
The naming of a prime minister was held up for days because the sole Islamist faction in the coalition, the ultraconservative Al-Nour Party, blocked candidates from secular, liberal and leftist groups. Those factions have been determined to have one of their own in the post.
Last week, Al-Nour blocked ElBaradei from becoming prime minister, then objected to one of his close allies put forward as a compromise. The moves infuriated the secular and liberal factions. ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency and a Nobel Peace laureate, is considered one of the strongest pro-reform figures, but many Islamists vehemently oppose him as too secular.
El-Beblawi is from the liberal-secular camp — albeit a less-controversial, well-known or prominent figure than ElBaradei.
El-Sissi’s statement appeared to be a veiled warning to Al-Nour. But it suggests the military is ready to apply pressure on politicians when multiple disputes are almost certain to emerge.
An Al-Nour spokesman, Ibrahim Abaza, told The Associated Press the party welcomed el-Beblawi’s appointed. But like secular groups, it complained it is not being consulted. “Our objections are not only about nominations but the dictatorship of the new president, who takes decisions unilaterally without consultations and with clear bias against Islamist current,” he said.
El-Beblawi, 76, was finance minister in one of the first Cabinets formed after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 and the military stepped in to rule for nearly 17 months. But he resigned in protest in October 2011 after 26 protesters, mostly Christians, were killed by security forces in a crackdown on their march.
A Sorbonnne-educated economist, he has been a professor in several Egyptian universities and served for six years in the U.N. Social Economic Commission for Western Asia. After Mubarak’s fall, he was one of the founders of the Egyptian Social Democratic party, one of several secular parties in the liberal grouping National Salvation Front, in which ElBaradei is a leading figure.
He called for dialogue between the new leadership and their Islamist opponents. “Everyone in Egypt must sit together on the table for dialogue to solve current political differences, stop violence and bloodshed in the street,” he told the AP.
Under the timetable, two appointed panels would draw up and approve amendments to the constitution, which would be put to a referendum within 4½ months. Elections for a new parliament would be held within two months of that. Once the parliament convenes, it would have a week to set a date for presidential elections.
After Monday’s bloodshed, authorities stepped up moves against Islamists.
The military accused armed Islamists of starting the violence by attacking the headquarters of the Republican Guard. Morsi supporters say no such attack took place and that troops opened fire on their nearby sit-in after dawn prayers. Along with 51 protesters, an army officer and two policemen were killed.
An Egyptian security official said 650 people were arrested for allegedly trying to storm the headquarters. The official said there were Syrian and Palestinian nationals among those arrested. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
The general prosecutor announced that authorities confiscated weapons, knives and homemade explosives and bombs from the protest site and that investigations found that armed men have used rooftops of residential and government buildings to fire at the Republican Guard forces.
Egypt also chided the Islamist-rooted governments of Turkey and Tunisia that criticized the ouster of Morsi. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to complain of interference in internal affairs after Turkish officials called for U.N. intervention.