CAIRO — Egypt’s interim president on Tuesday appointed a prime minister and vice president, moves designed to lend an air of normalcy to the country even as indications mounted that the president is little more than a civilian face for military rule.
The appointments came hours after the interim president, Adly Mansour, outlined a path to quick elections and a return to democracy after the coup last week that overthrew Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
The plan presented by Mansour drew immediate condemnation from Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, but it also elicited a lukewarm response from key players in the loose alliance of politicians and activists who had lobbied for Morsi’s ouster.
One group that had been central to the anti-Morsi movement said it had not been consulted on Mansour’s plan, which provides for few independent checks on the president’s power until a constitutional referendum and elections that are due within six months.
Egypt’s military insists that Morsi’s dismissal was not a coup and that civilians are firmly in charge. But events of the past week suggest that Mansour — who was a little-known judge before he was thrust into the presidency — remains subservient to the nation’s powerful generals.
Mansour did not make any public appearances to announce his moves, communicating instead through written statements and leaks to the news media.
The commander of Egypt’s armed forces, however, did speak. In a recorded statement broadcast Tuesday on Egyptian television, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi told the nation that the new president’s declaration provided “more than enough assurance” that the country was moving in the right direction.
The road map outlined a “specific timetable for every step of the rebuilding of the constitution in a way that will guarantee and achieve the will of the people,” Sissi said. “And that means the landmarks of the path are determined and clear.”
The Obama administration has pressed Egypt’s generals to set a clear course for returning to democracy and has urged them to avoid arbitrary arrests or other acts of reprisal against the Brotherhood, an Islamist group that the military has long sought to oppress.
But nearly a week after Morsi’s ouster, he and a group of top aides remain cut off from the world, having been effectively detained without charge. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants against hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members. Two Islamist television channels thrown off the air in the minutes after Morsi’s ouster remained dark Tuesday.
The Brotherhood, meanwhile, has accused the military of carrying out “a massacre” on Monday, when Egyptian security forces opened fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators, killing at least 51 people. The military has said that it was attacked first, a charge that the Brotherhood denies.
Concerns in Washington
Mohamed Tawfik, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, on Tuesday made the rounds on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of lawmakers are calling for a suspension of Washington’s $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, most of which goes to the country’s military.
The Obama administration is working to keep Congress from seeking a cutoff of that aid, which is mandatory in the event of a military coup, a senior administration official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The legislation requiring suspension of aid in the event of a coup has no waiver provision. “Nobody wants to cut off assistance to Egypt,” the official said.
Tawfik said in an interview Tuesday that suspension of aid would be a “drastic mistake.” Although the amount is “not that significant,” he said, a cutoff of aid would have enormous symbolic and psychological effect on U.S.-Egypt relations.
Tawfik said U.S. lawmakers want to know that Egypt “is on a democratic track and not veering away from it.”
Tuesday’s announcements in Cairo seemed tailored with that goal in mind. Mansour appointed Hazem el-Beblawi, a former finance minister, as the new prime minister, and he named liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei as the interim vice president.
ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, commands a popular following among young liberal activists but faces wide opposition among Egypt’s poorer and more conservative classes.
Beblawi served briefly as the country’s deputy prime minister in 2011, as the military guided the country through its rocky political transition after the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.
Liberal politicians and other anti-Morsi groups voiced support Tuesday for Beblawi, calling him a technocrat.