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Egypt searches for neutral prime minister

Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour (R) meets with opposition leader and former UN nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo in this handout picture dated July 6, 2013. Mr. ElBaradei was chosen as Egypt's interim Prime Minister on Saturday as the transitional administration fought to restore calm after at least 35 people were killed in Islamist protests that swept the country.


The Nour Party, a two-year-old Salafi political group that advocates for sharia law, has emerged as a significant power broker in post-Muslim Brotherhood Egypt.

While supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi and supporters of the military that removed him staged competing demonstrations in Cairo Sunday night, the Nour party was quietly determining who would or would not hold the powerful position of the country's interim prime minister.

By the end of a night of rumours and conflicting announcements, the ultra-conservative Nour party, which came a surprising second to the Muslim Brotherhood in last year's parliamentary election, had vetoed interim President Adly Mansour's first two choices for prime minister. Mr. Mansour was installed as president by the chief of Egypt's armed forces after the military forced out Mr. Morsi, who had served just one year as the country's first democratically elected leader.

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Mohamed ElBaradei – a prominent liberal politician, Nobel laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency – was reported Saturday night to be the interim president's choice for the job, and journalists were summoned to a press conference for a formal announcement.

Mr. ElBaradei heads the opposition National Salvation Front, a coalition that includes Amr Mousa, a former Egyptian foreign minister and head of the Arab League, and Hamdeen Sabahi – both losing candidates in last year's presidential election. He had been the choice of the group of young protesters known as Tamarod, or "Rebel," that had spearheaded the drive to remove Mr. Morsi.

At the last minute, however, it was announced that agreement had not, in fact, been reached. The Nour party, the only Islamist political group to support the military's removal of Mr. Morsi, was unhappy that such a secular man as Mr. ElBaradei would fill the key position.

"This sensitive period requires an independent who can win consensus not cause more divisions and polarization," Abdullah Badran, a leading Nour parliamentarian, told the Associated Press. "We don't want prejudices because it would only lead to more divisions."

Already facing substantial opposition from the ousted Muslim Brotherhood, the military leadership did not want to lose the support of the other major Islamist party as well. Mr. Mansour's office announced late Saturday that discussions would continue over a number of names being considered for a neutral prime minister who would lead a non-political government until a new constitution can be approved by the people and elections take place.

The Tamarod movement was furious at the U-turn. Its spokesman, Mahmoud Badr, said the presidency should have consulted the other members of the leadership advisory group before backtracking on Mr. ElBaradei's appointment.

Mr. Badr went so far as to say the Rebel group "would not recognize" or "deal with" any prime minister other than Mr. ElBaradei.

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As the evening wore on, another potential compromise for prime minister appeared to have been reached, with statements suggesting that Ziaad Bahaa el-Din of the leftist Social Democratic Party would be named prime minister and Mr. El Baradei would be named a vice-president.

Once again, however, the Nour Party announced it opposed the choice and would not accept Mr. Bahaa el-Din. "Both are from the same party, the National Salvation Front," Nour lawmaker Younes Makhyoun told Reuters. "This is rejected."

It was an embarrassing stumble out of the gate by the new military-backed leadership and indicative of how hard it is to reconcile the secular and leftist opposition with ultra-religious Islamists who represent opposite poles of the political spectrum.

"Some people say the military is running everything here," said an adviser to Mr. Mousa, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "If that were the case, the army would have named someone as prime minister and there would have been no questions asked."

The leadership advisory group was expected to agree on a full cabinet of technocrats as early as this week. "The sooner the better," the adviser added. "We need to get out the message: to the world that the situation is under control; to the Egyptian people that life can return to normal, and to the Muslim Brotherhood that it's game over."

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More


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