New Egyptian coalition splits over granting interim president broad powers

McClatchy Foreign StaffJuly 9, 2013 

— The broad political coalition that backed last week’s military takeover in Egypt began to fracture Tuesday over a military-approved timetable for the return to democratic rule, with two factions calling the newly announced constitutional declaration “dictatorial” and demanding a more representative transitional government.

But the military and its civilian backers also won a vital endorsement Tuesday in the form of support for the ailing economy, with Saudi Arabia pledging $5 billion in grants and loans just hours after the United Arab Emirates pledged $3 billion. Both countries had expressed qualms about the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government under ousted President Mohammed Morsi, fearing it would encourage Islamists in their countries to oust the hereditary monarchies that rule there.

Both developments suggested that the ouster of Morsi was only a piece of a dramatic shift in Egypt’s politics that would have ramifications both domestically and internationally.

There was no repeat, however, of the violence that on Monday left at least 51 members of the Muslim Brotherhood dead and hundreds more injured outside the headquarters of the country’s elite Republican Guard, where Morsi’s supporters believe he is being held.

What sparked that confrontation remained disputed, and Transitional President Adly Mansour, who was appointed to his post by the military, ordered an investigation into what took place. The results of that investigation were expected next week.

The Tamarod movement, a youth group whose spokesman, Mohammed Badr, was among the 14 people who joined Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on the stage last week when he announced that Morsi was no longer president, was the first organization to break with the new government over its midnight decree granting Mansour broad legislative powers and setting a timetable for the writing of a new constitution and the election of a Parliament and new president.

The group, whose name means “rebel” in Arabic and which had claimed to have collected 22 million signatures calling for Morsi’s resignation, denounced the decree as a reversion to practices under President Hosni Mubarak, the former air force general who had ruled Egypt for three decades before he was forced out in February 2011.

The movement said the decree’s stipulation that Mansour, who is also the head of the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, had the authority to “take all necessary measures and actions to protect the country” meant he had “absolute and unrestricted power.”

“This is an obvious theft of the revolution, taking us back to Jan. 25, 2011,” the day the anti-Mubarak demonstration began, said Khaled El-Kady, the Tamarod spokesman in Alexandria.

Tamarod also objected to the decree’s reference to Shariah, or Islamic law, as the country’s guiding principle, saying that could lead to radical interpretations of Islam, a fear shared by other liberal groups and by Egypt’s sizable Christian minority.

The ultra-conservative Nour Party, a key Islamist party that backed Morsi’s overthrow, said in a statement that the constitutional decree “goes against clear agreements announced in a meeting with the armed forces.”

The decree was also criticized by Mohamed ElBaradei, the leader of the largest anti-Morsi faction. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a longtime critic of Egypt’s military, was appointed vice president Tuesday, while a liberal economist, Hazem El-Beblawi, 76, was named prime minister. Beblawi served in the first military-led government after Mubarak’s ouster in 2011.

Through a spokesman, Mansour promised a Cabinet representing Egypt’s Islamist, secular and technocratic political factions.

The Obama administration, which has refused to call Morsi’s removal a coup, said it was “cautiously encouraged” by Mansour’s plan, which calls for drafting the new constitution in four months, followed by parliamentary elections in six months and presidential elections to follow.

“We are encouraged that the interim government has laid out a plan for the path forward,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington. “We think that’s a good thing,” echoed White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Carney said the plan could help Egypt move “forward with a democratic process and elections, both parliamentary and presidential. We think that’s a good thing.”

The State Department refused to comment on the aid package from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which dwarfs the $1.5 billion annual aid the United States provides Egypt for its military and economy. Instead, State Department officials said only that elections “should move forward with the maximum inclusion and consensus.”

Nancy A. Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @roygutmanmcc

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