Egypt’s interim president appointed a prime minister and a vice president Tuesday, a week after Mohamed Morsi was forced out of the presidency in what his supporters call a military coup:
[Interim President Adly] Mansour issued a decree late Monday that set the parameters for a referendum on a revised constitution within about 4 1 / 2 months, parliamentary elections within about six months and presidential elections after that.
Mansour followed up Tuesday by naming former finance minister Hazem el-Beblawi as the country’s new prime minister, the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported. Liberal opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was appointed vice president in charge of foreign affairs.
Meanwhile, Morsi supporters were preparing to bury 51 of their own, victims of gunfire on a crowd of Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators outside the building where they believe Morsi is being held.
Muslim Brotherhood officials dismissed the new political appointments Tuesday as the illegitimate actions of a unelected leaders.
“It’s not our business. We have nothing to do with that,” said Hamza Zawbaa, a spokesman for the group’s Freedom and Justice party. “It’s a military coup, and we don’t negotiate with military leaders,” he said at the Brotherhood’s continuing sit-in near the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo.
Brotherhood member Bassem Ouda, who was ousted as minister of supply and internal trade, said he was bemused by the sudden rise of Beblawi, a former finance minister during Egypt’s first, rocky military transition. “Hazem el-Beblawi is an Egyptian figure. But I was very surprised when I heard that Dr. Beblawi accepted the post of prime minister of the coming government after the military coup,” Ouda said. He said Beblawi had been offered the prime minister’s post under Morsi and had “totally rejected it.”
Beblawi “is a liberal economist, an academic and a politician, and he fits the technocrat description,” said Emad Gad, a leader of Egypt’s 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.” ElBaradei, Gad said, “is a symbol of the Egyptian revolution.”
For Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, the future poses difficult questions about the organization’s goals:
For a group that has toggled throughout its history between violence and peaceful opposition, the killing by security forces of dozens of Brotherhood supporters on Monday left its members angry, embittered and at risk, analysts said, of careening toward a more militant and radicalized future.
“The new regime is sending a clear message that [it] is determined to kill, detain political figures, stop media channels,” Hamed wrote in an e-mail after Monday’s violence.
He and other ousted officials vowed more protests and delivered emotional speeches. Bloodied victims at the Brotherhood’s field hospital, set amid a sea of supporters camped out in eastern Cairo, said the “massacre” by Egyptian security forces had only solidified their resolve.
But analysts say the group, founded in 1928, is at a critical crossroads.
Ousted president Mohamed Morsi and a circle of aides, all Muslim Brotherhood loyalists, remain imprisoned incommunicado at the headquarters of the Republican Guard, Brotherhood officials said. Egyptian security forces have rounded up other Brotherhood leaders and shut down two satellite channels deemed sympathetic to the Islamists. Security officials have leaked reports that raided Brotherhood offices had stockpiled weapons.
Whether the Brotherhood will be allowed back onto Egypt’s new political stage is rapidly becoming the critical question, said Samer Shehata, an expert on the movement at the University of Oklahoma.
“If you are pushed out of the political process, then one possibility is a resort to arms,” Shehata said. He dismissed the notion that Egypt would turn into another Algeria, where the military canceled an election on the eve of a predicted Islamist win in 1991, setting off a decade of civil war.
For policymakers in Washington, Morsi’s ouster has directed attention to U.S. aid to Egypt:
The biggest policy debate roiling Washington right now is whether to continue America’s annual $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt. After all, Egypt just had a coup in which the military ousted the country’s elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Doesn’t that warrant a response?
The Obama administration says it prefers to keep aid flowing to Egypt for now — for stability’s sake. “It would not be in the best interests of the United States to immediately change our assistance program to Egypt,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Yet some key members of Congress are calling for a cutoff. “We need to suspend aid to the new government until it does in fact schedule elections and put in place a process that comes up with a new constitution,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). . .
Between 1948 and 2011, the United States has given Egypt about $71.6 billion in bilateral military and economic aid. That’s more than we’ve given to any other country over that time frame save for Israel.
A recent report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service lays out the details. The biggest chunk is military aid, averaging about $1.3 billion per year since 1987, with much of that military equipment. For instance, Egypt plans to acquire 1,200 M1A1 Abrams Battle tanks from the United States. The components are jointly manufactured in both countries and shipped to Egypt for final assembly. This year, the United States is also shipping 20 F-16 fighter jets overseas. Plus there’s money for border security along the Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt also gets a few special financing provisions, says CRS, including the ability to deposit its funds at an interest-bearing account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The nation also gets to engage in cash-flow financing to pay for military equipment, a special provision not available to most recipients, and one that allows Egypt to negotiate bigger arms purchases.
On top of that, Egypt received about $250 million last year in economic aid, money that goes toward health, education, as well as democracy programs. (In past years, the United States also funded big USAID infrastructure projects in sanitation, communications, and so forth. But that was scaled back in the 1990s.)
Opinion writer Richard Cohen argues that Morsi’s removal from office is good for Egypt, even if it was undemocratic:
The issue is not whether Egypt is a democracy or something else. The issue is whether Egypt provides for its people and keeps out of trouble. After that, if Ramses II returns, it’s okay with me.
For 34 years — under three regimes now — Egypt has kept the peace with Israel, which is worth a yearly Nobel Peace Prize. For all but the past two years, this peace was maintained by authoritarian regimes — Anwar Sadat’s and then Hosni Mubarak’s. They had their imperfections, but bellicosity was not one of them.
Democracy is nice, but it is not a panacea. The American insistence that the world mimic us — ain’t we pretty close to poifect? — has always struck me as both patronizing and contemptuous of history. . .
America’s interest is in a stable Middle East. If stability can be combined with democracy, all the better. But it was the authoritarian governments of Egypt and Jordan that signed peace treaties with Israel when, you’d be assured, popularly elected ones would never have done so. (As it was, the treaty cost Sadat his life.)
On the other hand, opinion writer Eugene Robinson argues that the military has simply reclaimed the power it lost during the revolution:
One does not have to be an admirer of ousted President Mohamed Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood to see clearly what the Egyptian military has done. When vast throngs of self-proclaimed “moderates” took to the streets to protest the way Morsi was governing, the generals could have made clear their support for Egypt’s new democratic order, however flawed. Instead, they protected their own interests.
Morsi had tried to assert civilian control over the military. How silly of him to think the generals would surrender so easily.
To be sure, Morsi staged a power grab of his own last November, when he issued a decree granting himself broad executive powers and eliminating judicial scrutiny of his actions. But swelling protests forced him to back down — an illustration, I would argue, of democracy in action.
Morsi then forged ahead by putting a new constitution, drafted mostly by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, before the electorate. In December, the document was approved by 64 percent of those who voted — a landslide. Turnout was low, and opponents cited “irregularities” at polling places. But I have seen no credible claim that this vote was stolen rather than won.
It is clear that Morsi wanted to make Egypt a more religious, less pluralistic society than it was during the Mubarak years. The rights of Coptic Christians and other minorities were under assault. To Egyptians who are young, secular and middle class — those who poured back into Tahrir Square, cellphones in hand, tweeting their rage to the world — Morsi’s government must have been a nightmare.
The notion that a military coup will make everything better, however, is a fantasy.
For past coverage of Egypt, continue reading here.