Liberal economist new Egypt Prime Minister; Opposition chief ElBaradei is VP

Egyptian Liberal ecomomist and former Minister Hazem el-Beblawi arriving for the G-7 finance ministers' meeting in the French southern French city of Marseille on Sept 10, 2011. Egypt's interim president on Tuesday named liberal economist Hazem
Egyptian Liberal ecomomist and former Minister Hazem el-Beblawi arriving for the G-7 finance ministers' meeting in the French southern French city of Marseille on Sept 10, 2011. Egypt's interim president on Tuesday named liberal economist Hazem al-Beblawi, a former finance minister, as the country's new prime minister, presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani said. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (AFP, AP) - Egypt's interim president on Tuesday named liberal economist Hazem al-Beblawi, a former finance minister, as the country's new prime minister, presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani said.

Liberal opposition chief and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was named vice-president for foreign relations, Mr Muslimani said.

The announcement comes a day after the interim leadership laid out a fast-track timetable to elect a new president and Parliament by early next year. The swift issuing of the plan showed a determination to entrench a new political system in the face of Islamists’ vows to continue their street campaign aiming to reverse the military’s ousting of President Mohammed Mursi.

Mr El-Beblawi, who is in his 70s, served as finance minister in one of the first Cabinets formed after the 2011 uprising forced Hosni Mubarak from power and the military stepped in to rule. He resigned in protest in October 2011 after 26 protesters, mostly Christians, were killed by troops and security forces in a crackdown on their march. 

He is one of the founders of the Egyptian Social Democratic party, one of several secular parties in the liberal grouping National Salvation Front. The Front had backed youth activists who drove the massive protests by millions of Egyptians last week demanding Mr Mursi’s removal, leading to the military’s ousting of the country’s first democratically elected president. 

The announcement breaks a political deadlock among the factions that backed Mr Mursi’s removal over who to put in the post. Liberal, secular and youth factions have been trying to ensure one of their own in the spot, only to be blocked by the sole Islamist grouping among their ranks – the ultraconservative Salafi Al-Nour Party.

Last week, Mr ElBaradei was on the verge of being named prime minister, but at the last minute he was withdrawn in the face of Al-Nour objections. An ally of Mr ElBaradei was then touted as a compromise, but the Salafis again expressed disapproval.

Mr ElBaradei is considered one of the strongest pro-reform figures, but many Islamists vehemently oppose him, considering him too secular. The naming of a prime minister and the announcement of a transition plan also likely aims to show the United States and other Western nations that the country is moving quickly back to an elected civilian leadership. Washington has expressed concern over the removal of Egypt’s first freely elected president, and if the US government determines that the army’s move qualifies as a coup it would have to cut off more than US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion) in aid to Egypt, mostly to the military. The Obama administration has said doing so would not be in US interests.

Interim President Adly Mansour issued a “constitutional declaration” late Monday outlining the transition timetable. It came hours after one of the deadliest incident of bloodshed since Mr Mursi’s July 3 ouster: Security forces killed more than 50 pro-Mursi protesters in clashes at a sit-in by Islamists. The military accused armed Islamists of sparking the fighting, but Mursi supporters said troop opened fire on them without provocation after dawn prayers. The bloodshed only deepened the country’s polarisation between Islamists and their opponents. Since then, the military and allied media have depicted the campaign to restore Mr Mursi as increasingly violent and infused with armed extremists. An Egyptian security official said 650 people were arrested, most during Monday’s violence, for allegedly trying to storm the Republican Guard headquarters.

The military claims that is what sparked the violence that led to the deaths. Protesters and Mr Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood deny any attack took place, saying the troops descended on their sit-in outside the headquarters and started firing. The official said there were Syrian and Palestinian nationals among those arrested – an apparent attempt to portray the sit-in as including foreign militants. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. Islamists, in turn, have talked of the military aiming to crush them after what they say was a coup to wreck democracy. Mr Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood figure and deputy head of its Freedom and Justice Party, rejected the transition timetable, saying it takes the country “back to zero”.

“The cowards are not sleeping, but Egypt will not surrender. The people created their constitution with their votes,” he wrote on his Facebook page, referring to the Constitution that Islamists pushed to finalisation and then was passed in a national referendum during Mr Mursi’s year in office. He said the military and its allies were targeting “not just the president but the nation’s identity, the rights and freedoms of the people and the democratic system enshrined in the Constitution”.

The Constitution passed under Mr Mursi – and suspended since his fall – was written by an assembly created by the first post-Mubarak Parliament, elected in 2011-2012. But the panel was deeply controversial. Reflecting the Parliament, the constituent assembly had a strong Islamist majority. Most non-Islamists eventually abandoned the assembly, complaining that the Brotherhood and its allies were imposing their will.

Courts were considering whether to dissolve the panel but Mr Mursi unilaterally decreed that they could not while his allies rushed to finalise the draft. The final version had a strong Islamist flavour, deepening requirements for laws to abide by Shariah. The document passed in a referendum with around 60 per cent of the vote – but only around 30 per cent of voters casting ballots. Under the timetable issued on Monday by interim president Adly Mansour, two appointed panels would be created. One, made up of judges, would come up with amendments. The other, larger body consisting of representatives of society and political movements would debate the amendments and approve them. The new Constitution would be put to a referendum within four months from now. Elections for a new Parliament would be held within two months of that. Once the new Parliament convenes, it would have a week to set a date for presidential elections.