With new PM, Egypt accelerates return to civilian rule

Egypt's interim president yesterday presented a plan for taking Egypt from military coup to the second president of its post-revolution era.

Manu Brabo/AP
Egyptian military soldiers stand guard atop armored personnel carriers near Cairo University, where supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi have installed their camp in Giza, southwest of Cairo, Sunday, July 7. Interim President Adly Mansour has been under pressure to restore some degree of certainty to a political landscape characterized by ambiguity since Mr. Morsi was ousted last week.

This story was updated at 1:47 p.m.

Egypt's interim leadership has accelerated the timetable for new presidential elections, offering a first look at the plan that they hope will steer Egypt from a military coup to the election of the second president of its post-revolution era. The urgency of transitioning out of a period in which the military has a prominent political role has spiked since the military fired on a crowd of deposed President Mohamed Morsi's supporters yesterday.

Interim President Adly Mansour has been under pressure to restore some degree of certainty to a political landscape characterized by ambiguity since Mr. Morsi was ousted last week. One of the greatest unknowns has been the shape of a future political settlement. 

Mr. Mansour issued a constitutional declaration late last night that states that Egypt will hold parliamentary elections once amendments to its suspended constitution are approved in a referendum. Today he announced the appointment of former Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister and Mohamed ElBaradei, who was initially proposed as the prime minister, as vice president of foreign affairs. 

"The new powers that be in Egypt cannot afford to have this legal and governmental void,” says Yasser el-Shimy, Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group. “They want to impose the facts on the ground and to send a message to the Muslim Brotherhood and the world that this ship is sailing.”

Mansour's decree came on one of the bloodiest days since Egypt’s 2011 revolution. Early Monday morning, the military opened fire on a crowd of Morsi's supporters as they prayed outside a military facility. Fifty-one people were killed and more than 400 were injured. 

Under the new plan, two appointed committees will craft amendments to the constitution that was controversially drafted last year by an Islamist-dominated committee. The amended constitution will then be put to a referendum and will be followed by parliamentary elections. 

Egypt's first democratically elected lower house of parliament has been suspended since June 2012, and its upper house, intended to be mostly a symbolic body, was dissolved in last week's military takeover. Once convened, the new parliament will have a week to set a date for presidential elections. 

Mansour must now find cross-party consensus for the political road map. This was one of Morsi's greatest failings throughout his one-year presidency, and the political landscape has grown only more polarized since his ouster and street demonstrations both opposed to and in support of the military's action. Supporters and opponents of the Islamist leader have clashed regularly over the past week, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured across the country.

The plan has already been rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization behind Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party. Senior party official Essam el-Erian denounced the decree in a Facebook post, describing Mansour as "a man appointed by putschists" and saying that the constitutional declaration "brings the county back to square one."

The Brotherhood has been left staggering by the loss of their elected president and their growing isolation, compounded by other groups' muted reactions to yesterday's bloodshed.

Yesterday's incident also prompted the ultra-conservative Salafi Al Nour Party, the greatest political rival to the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the second largest party in the dissolved parliament, to withdraw its support for the road map before it was even issued. Describing the shootings as a "massacre," party spokesman Nadr Bakr announced an "immediate withdrawal from all negotiation routes."

Mansour responded with an apparent olive branch to the Salafis, including language in the constitutional declaration that says sharia (Islamic) law will be "the main source of legislation." 

The swiftness with which Mansour issued the new plan was necessary, Mr. Shimy says. But he also warns that yesterday’s bloodshed has posed “one of the very early and very serious threats to [a peaceful] transition materializing and taking shape.” He says that the reintegration of the Muslim Brotherhood into the emerging political process will be crucial to the system's future resilience. 

Egypt's liberal opposition parties have responded to the decree with a mixture of praise and concern.

"The most positive part is the confirmation that we want to go back to the ballot box," says Khaled Daouad, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front. But he says that the privileged position of sharia law has raised concerns within his party.

"[The administration] is not just going the extra mile to satisfy the Nour Party," he says. "It's going [the] extra 10 miles instead."

Disagreements such as these must be handled with care by Egypt's transitional administration, says Mr. Shimy, explaining that the success of Egypt's new transition will be determined by the degree of political consensus that it achieves.

And if this plan falters as well, it could be a severe blow to Egyptians' faith in the democratic process, already damaged by the chaos of the two years since dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

“The Muslim Brotherhood tried to dominate the political system as a result of their electoral victories. Now, we have equally confrontational politics, but with new victors trying to dominate the political system. If the new government is not careful, this could prove to be yet another nail in the coffin for the legitimacy of this new political system," Shimy says.

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