CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's new prime minister was to begin forming a Cabinet on Wednesday that will face the difficult task of shepherding the deeply divided country through what promises to be a rocky transition period following the military's ouster of the nation's president.
Hazem el-Beblawi, a prominent economist and former finance minister who was appointed premier on Tuesday, received a significant boost in the form of $8 billion in promises of aid from wealthy Gulf Arab allies to help stabilize a country still reeling from the army's ouster of President Mohammed Morsi last week.
The country's interim leaders and military have tried to fast-track the transition process, and the armed forces have warned political factions that "maneuvering" must not hold up the speedy timetable that call for new elections early next year. The sharp message underlines how strongly the military is guiding the process, even as liberal reform movements that backed its removal of Morsi complained that now they are not being consulted in decision-making.
The Muslim Brotherhood has denounced the transition plan, vowing to continue its street protests until the ousted Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, is returned to power.
Tuesday's appointment of el-Beblawi as prime minister, along with the setting of the accelerated timetable, underlined the army's determination to push ahead in the face of Islamist opposition and outrage over the killing of more than 50 Morsi supporters on Monday.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provided a welcome boost for the new leadership. The two countries, both opponents of Morsi's 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 Morsi's Gulf patron, Qatar, a close ally of the Brotherhood that gave his government several billion in aid. During Morsi's year in office, 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 leaders 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 seven-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 against 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.
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 on Tuesday for another day outside a Cairo mosque.
Still, there was no huge nationwide turnout that the 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.
It's unclear if the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts Wednesday, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, will significantly calm the street. The fast cuts down on activity during the day, but the demonstrations have been largely nocturnal affairs. 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. But 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.
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.
Under the new 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.
Following Monday's bloodshed, 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.
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