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Talks on Egypt leaders hit Islamist block

Monday - 7/8/2013, 1:52am  ET

An opponent of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi holds up a picture showing the United States President Barack Obama and U.S. flag during a rally outside the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, July 7, 2013. Egypt's new leadership wrangled over the naming of a prime minister, as both the Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents called for new mass rallies Sunday, renewing fears of another round of street violence over the military's ousting of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The calls for competing rallies come after clashes two days ago between the rival camps left at least 36 dead and more than 1,000 injured nationwide. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

SARAH EL DEEB
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- Secular and liberal factions trying to install one of their own as Egypt's new prime minister collided into strong resistance Sunday from the sole Islamist faction that backed the military's ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, reflecting the difficulties in building a broad coalition behind a new leadership.

As wrangling continued over the prime minister spot, giant rallies by the movements that pushed out Morsi took on a sharply nationalist tone, pervaded with posters of the military's chief and denunciations of the United States and President Barack Obama for they see as their backing of the Islamist leader.

The show of strength in the streets was aimed at fending off a determined campaign by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which brought out its own supporters Sunday in large protests.

Warning that the military is turning Egypt into a "totalitarian state," Brotherhood officials vowed to stay on the streets to reverse what they call a coup against democracy and restore Egypt's first freely elected president to office.

Military warplanes swooped over the anti-Morsi crowd filling Cairo's Tahrir Square, drawing a heart shape and an Egyptian flag in the sky with colored smoke. Large banners read "Obama, hands off, a message to the USA. Obama supports the terrorists of 911" with a picture of Obama with an Islamists' beard.

Throughout Morsi's year in office, many of his opponents accused the United States of backing his administration. Washington often underlined that it was dealing with Morsi as the country's elected leader.

Before the wave of anti-Morsi protests began on June 30, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson said in a speech that she was "deeply skeptical" protests would be fruitful. She defended U.S. relations with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood as necessary because the group is part of the democratically elected government.

Since Morsi's removal Wednesday, Washington has tread carefully, expressing concern without outright calling the army's move a coup or denouncing Morsi's ouster. On Saturday, the White House said in a statement that it rejects "false claims propagated by some in Egypt that we are working with specific political parties or movements to dictate how Egypt's transition should proceed," saying it is committed to Egyptians' aspirations for democracy.

The widespread appearance of anti-American slogans in Tahrir had a double-edged message: painting the Brotherhood as a tool of Washington and pushing back against U.S. concerns over the military's moves.

Obama "must know that this is a popular revolution," said Shawki Ibrahim, a 37-year-old in Tahrir with a portrait of army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi dangling from his neck.

"The United States should support the people's will and not the interest of a person or a group seeking only their own interest," he said.

The appointment of a prime minister is the key next step in building a post-Morsi leadership. The prime minister is to hold far greater powers in running the country than the interim president -- Adly Mansour, a senior judge who was sworn into the post earlier.

The bloc of secular, leftist and liberal factions that led the giant wave of protests against Morsi last week are now the main grouping in a loose collection of movements trying to fill out leadership posts. They are pushing for one of their own as prime minister to have a strong voice in shaping the country.

But also among them is a main party of the ultraconservative Islamist movement known as Salafis -- al-Nour -- which turned against Morsi months ago and backed the military's ouster of him.

On Saturday, al-Nour blocked the appointment of the most prominent liberal figure, Mohamed ElBaradei, as prime minister, who is deeply distrusted by the Islamist movement as too secular.

On Sunday, the secular-liberal bloc offered a compromise candidate -- Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a prominent financial expert and an ally of ElBaradei. The interim president's spokesman Ahmed al-Musalamani, told Egypt's ONTV that Bahaa-Eldin was the leading candidate, with ElBaradei positioned to be named vice president.

But al-Nour again appeared prepared to block it.

"Our position is that the prime minister should not belong to a specific faction ... We want a technocrat," al-Nour Party chief Younes Makhyoun told The Associated Press. He pointed to Bahaa-Eldin's membership in the National Salvation Front, the main umbrella group of liberal parties that was Morsi's main opposition.

Al-Nour faces considerable pressure from its followers not to be seen as backing down to secular movements. Brotherhood officials claim some al-Nour members have already joined its pro-Morsi protests. When al-Nour broke with Morsi months ago, it caused a split among its ranks, with some members forming a new party that remained with the president.

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