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Egypt pushes transition, naming prime minister

Wednesday - 7/10/2013, 2:14am  ET

In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Hazem el-Beblawi meets with interim President Adly Mansour, unseen, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. The spokesman of Egypt's interim president says a prominent economist, Hazem el-Beblawi, has been named prime minister and pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei as a vice-president. Ahmed el-Musalamani made the announcements Tuesday after days of political stalemate over the prime minister post. El-Beblawi, who is in his 70s, served as finance minister in one of the first cabinets formed after the 2011 uprising forced Hosni Mubarak from power and the military stepped in to rule. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

LEE KEATH
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's military-backed interim leader named a new prime minister and won $8 billion in promises of aid from wealthy Arab allies in the Gulf on Tuesday in moves aimed at stabilizing a political transition less than a week after the army deposed the Islamist president.

The armed forces warned political factions that "maneuvering" must not hold up its ambitious fast-track timetable for new elections next year. The sharp message underlined how strongly the military is shepherding the process, even as liberal reform movements that backed its removal of Mohammed Morsi complained that now they are not being consulted in decision-making.

The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the transition plan, vowing to continue its street protests until ousted Morsi, the country's first freely elected president, is returned to power.

The appointment of economist Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister, along with the setting of the accelerated timetable, underlined the military's determination to push ahead in the face of Islamist opposition and outrage over the killing of more than 50 Morsi supporters on Monday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provided a welcome boost for the new leadership. The two countries, both opponents of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, celebrated his ouster by showering the cash-strapped Egyptian government with promises of $8 billion in grants, loans and badly needed gas and oil.

In doing so, they are effectively stepping in for Morsi's Gulf patron, Qatar, a close ally of the Brotherhood that gave his government several billion in aid. During Morsi's year in office as Egypt's first freely elected president, he and his officials toured multiple countries seeking cash to prop up rapidly draining foreign currency reserves and plug mounting deficits -- at times getting a cold shoulder.

The developments underlined the pressures on the new leadership even with the country still in turmoil after what Morsi's supporters have called a coup against democracy.

The military faces calls, from the U.S. and Western allies in particular, to show that civilians are in charge and Egypt is on a path toward a democratically based leadership. The nascent government will soon face demands that it tackle economic woes that mounted under Morsi, including fuel shortages, electricity cutoffs and inflation.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington is "cautiously encouraged" by the announcement of a plan to return to democratically elected government.

Still, several groups in the loose coalition participating in the political process were angered over the transition plan issued Monday by interim President Adly Mansour. His declaration set out a 7-month timetable for elections but also a truncated, temporary constitution laying out the division of powers in the meantime.

The top liberal political grouping, the National Salvation Front, rejected the plan late Tuesday. It said it was not consulted -- "in violation of previous promises" -- and that the declaration "lacks significant clauses while others need change or removal." It did not elaborate but said it had presented Mansour with changes it seeks.

The secular, revolutionary youth movement Tamarod, which organized last week's massive protests of Morsi, also criticized the plan, in part because it gives too much power to Mansour, including the power to issue laws. A post-Morsi plan put forward by Tamarod called for a largely ceremonial interim president with most power in the hands of the prime minister.

At the same time, Egypt remains deeply polarized with heightened fears of violence, especially after Monday's shootings. The Brotherhood and Islamist allies say they are under siege by a military crackdown that has jailed five of their leaders and shut down their media outlets. Tens of thousands of Islamists massed for another day outside a Cairo mosque. The crowds waved pictures of Morsi and brought in flag-draped empty coffins representing the slain protesters.

The Brotherhood said the new transition plan "confirms that those who carried out the coup, the dictator generals, don't respect the will of the people."

Still, there was not the huge nationwide turnout that Brotherhood leaders had called for after the killings. Also, for the first time since even before the June 30 protests began, Cairo's Tahrir Square -- where Morsi's opponents were centered -- was largely without crowds.

That could in part reflect the fact that people are preparing for the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday, when Muslims begin 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset.

It is not clear if Ramadan will significantly calm the street. The fast cuts down on activity during the day, but the demonstrations have been largely nocturnal affairs anyway. The Islamist camp will likely use it to rally its base.

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