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Egypt’s interim president names leadership, Salafists approve
Egypt’s interim president on Tuesday appointed a liberal economist and former finance minister as prime minister and former U.N. atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president for foreign affairs.
Interim President Adly Mansour appointed Hazem el-Biblawi as interim prime minister following protests from the Salafist Nour Party — an ultraconservative Islamist group — over reports that Mr. ElBaradei, whom it considers too secular, was being considered for the job. The Salafists wanted a technocrat for the post, and welcomed the appointment of Mr. el-Biblawi, 76.
The appointments were announced hours after Mr. Mansour issued a constitutional declaration that set a timetable for amending the Islamist-drafted constitution and for elections.
The inclusion in the constitutional declaration of some articles from the suspended 2012 constitution — including those on the freedom of religion and the role of Islamic, or Shariah, law — appear intended to placate the Salafists.
“You can see from the constitutional declaration and from the choices of prime minister and vice president that there is a very keen interest in maintaining the Salafists on board,” said Bassem Sabry, a Cairo-based political commentator. “They need the Salafists to maintain a big national coalition that is multi-ideological so as not to feed what is touted by some as a war against Islam.”
“The Salafists may not be kings, but they seem to be kingmakers now,” Mr. Sabry added.
“The Egyptian military understands very well that the political legitimacy of this transition will be much harder without the Salafists on board,” said Eric Trager, an Egypt analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The military is trying very hard not to make the current transition period about Islamists versus non-Islamists by keeping the Salafists within the fold and that gives the Salafists substantial bargaining power.”
On Monday, the Nour Party suspended its participation in the political process after a military crackdown on Morsi supporters in Cairo that left 51 people dead and hundreds wounded. However, it appeared to be back on board on Tuesday.
The Salafists’ presence in the anti-Morsi camp is a “double-edged sword,” said Mr. Sabry. While it helps absorb some of the Islamist anger and gives legitimacy to Mr. Morsi’s ouster, it also risks compromises on what were liberal reasons for the uprising, he said.
Concern over the Salafists’ actions was reflected by Egypt’s defense chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who in a thinly veiled warning to the Nour Party said in a statement on state TV that “the future of the nation is too important and sacred for maneuvers or hindrance, whatever the justifications.”
State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki said the Obama administration is “encouraged that the interim government had laid out a plan for the path forward in the constitutional decree.”
But the response among Egyptian groups ranged from criticism to disdain.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.
Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.
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