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.
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.
Beblawi “is a liberal economist, an academic and a politician, and he fits the technocrat description,” said Emad Gad, a leader of the Social Democratic Party and a political scientist at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank. “I think there will be a national agreement on this.”
Beblawi’s first job will probably be to try to revive the nation’s ailing economy. Long gas lines, rising prices, high unemployment and dangerously low foreign currency reserves contributed to the public antipathy toward Morsi.
In an interview with The Washington Post in October, Beblawi said that Morsi’s government knew “exactly what is required” to remedy Egypt’s spiraling economic woes but that it was struggling to find the political strategy to implement the measures.
Selling massive subsidy cuts to the public was akin to administering “a sour medicine,” Beblawi said. And Morsi and the Brotherhood didn’t have the “guts” to take such measures, he added.
Egypt received a much-needed boost to its finances Tuesday when Saudi Arabia pledged $5 billion in aid and the United Arab Emirates offered $3 billion, according to the state news agency.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where a small crowd of anti-Morsi demonstrators continued to mill about, Egyptians said they were mostly pleased with the path their country was taking in the days since his fall.
“Any government that follows the Muslim Brotherhood will be more successful,” said Victor Shenouda, a businessman. “They are hated.”
But some cracks in the coalition of anti-Morsi forces were showing. The liberal activist group Tamarod, which helped mobilize the protests last week that contributed to his ouster, said on its Web site Tuesday that it had not been consulted ahead of Mansour’s constitutional declaration.
Tamarod said that because it was not consulted on the document, it would “hand the presidency our amendments today.”
Muslim Brotherhood officials, meanwhile, scoffed Tuesday at the political appointments and the constitutional road map and dismissed Mansour as a puppet of the military. Morsi supporters vowed to continue their protests, even as the families of those killed in Monday’s violence arrived at a Cairo morgue to carry their dead away.
“We have an approved constitution. The people voted on it. Why would you get rid of it?” said Hamza Zawbaa, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which has staged running sit-ins in three areas of Cairo since Morsi’s ouster. “The military took all the authority and put up Mr. Adly Mansour as a front.”
William Booth, Amro Hassan and Sharaf al-Hourani in Cairo and Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londoño in Washington contributed to this report.