Egypt’s interim administration on Sunday pressed ahead with a military-backed “road map” to return the country to democratic rule, even as the top prosecutor continued his crackdown on senior figures in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Also Sunday, pro-reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei took office as Egypt’s interim vice president for foreign affairs, a former ambassador to the U.S. was appointed interim foreign minister and the State Department’s No. 2 diplomat arrived in Cairo for talks.
Egypt’s military deposed Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s first democratically elected president, on July 3 following protests at which millions of Egyptians demanded Mr. Morsi’s resignation and early elections.
Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi on Sunday defended his decision to remove Mr. Morsi. He said the president had rejected his suggestion that a referendum be held on his rule.
“Before the army had to propose its road map, it had previously expressed that the presidency hold a referendum [on Mr. Morsi’s continuation in office],” Gen. El-Sissi said in a meeting with top army officers Sunday afternoon, according to a report by the state-owned Al Ahram media organization.
“We had sent a message to former President Morsi through two messengers, his own prime minister [Hisham Qandil] and a respectable legal figure, recommending that he calls for a national referendum. Our request met with absolute rejection,” Gen. El-Sissi said.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi, meanwhile, was putting together a Cabinet, which is expected to be sworn in this week. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, has refused to be part of the Cabinet.
Under U.S. law, the Obama administration would have to cut off more than $1 billion in annual aid if it is determined that the military’s ouster of Mr. Morsi was a coup. Administration officials have said cutting off aid would not serve U.S. interests.
Nabil Fahmy, a former Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. who was picked to be foreign minister over the weekend, said it would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that the military had conducted a coup. He described the days preceding Mr. Morsi’s ouster as “exceptional circumstances.”
“If you were to decide this was a coup, you’d be going against 33 million Egyptians who simply said this was not a coup and who actually asked the military to intervene,” Mr. Fahmy said Thursday during a briefing at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.
“The military had two options: they could either intervene or allow for chaos and violence and then have to intervene,” he said. “I would test them not on what they did, but what they will do in the future. Rather than thinking of reducing aid or cutting aid, I would actually look at increasing positive aid as this process succeeds.”
Mr. ElBaradei, a former chief of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, led the National Salvation Front, a coalition of mostly secular groups, before taking the oath as vice president. He was picked to represent the opposition by a number of groups, including Tamarod, a predominantly youth movement that led the anti-Morsi protests.
Mr. Morsi has been kept at an undisclosed location since his ouster.
Mr. Morsi’s supporters, who have been staging a mass protest in Cairo since his ouster, say he was toppled in a coup and have called for nationwide protests Monday to demand he be reinstated.
Chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat expanded his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by freezing the assets of Mohammed Badei, the group’s supreme guide, and at least 13 other senior Islamist leaders.
Last week, Mr. Barakat issued arrest warrants for Mr. Badei and nine other Islamist leaders, charging them with inciting violence following Mr. Morsi’s ouster.
On Sunday, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns commenced a three-day visit to Cairo, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Egypt since Mr. Morsi was deposed. He will meet with interim officials as well as civil society and business leaders.
“In all these meetings, he will underscore U.S. support for the Egyptian people, an end to all violence, and a transition leading to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government,” the State Department said.