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Egypt appoints new Cabinet; Morsi backers clash with police

The Cabinet of mostly liberals and technocrats appears to be a repudiation of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. It includes women but not Islamists.

July 16, 2013|By Jeffrey Fleishman
  • Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi throw stones during clashes in downtown Cairo.
Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi throw stones during… (Hussein Malla, Associated…)

CAIRO — Fear of a fresh wave of violence gripped Egypt on Tuesday as a new Cabinet was sworn in to try to stem years of economic turmoil and move the polarized nation beyond the Islamist-led government of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

Seven people were killed and more than 260 injured late Monday and early Tuesday when Morsi loyalists battled police on streets strewn with stones and burning garbage. The fighting followed last week's army attack on Islamists in front of the Republican Guard headquarters that killed at least 51 supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The clashes illustrated the country's deepening political rancor and the desperation of Islamists, who feel that Morsi, the nation's first freely elected president, may never return to power. The new military-installed government has advanced its "road map" for new elections and an amended constitution.

Interim President Adly Mahmoud Mansour appointed a 30-plus-member Cabinet of mostly liberals and technocrats, including Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi as deputy prime minister and defense minister and Nabil Fahmy, a former ambassador to the United States, as foreign minister.

News reports said that the Brotherhood had been offered posts but that the group did not want to participate in the process, saying Morsi is the nation's only legitimate authority. The Cabinet, which includes three women, appears to broaden Sisi's role in the government and excludes members of Egypt's main Islamist parties.

The Cabinet is a further repudiation of both Morsi's rule and the Brotherhood's influence on the state. It is a signal to international investors and foreign capitals that Egypt, after a coup deposed Morsi two weeks ago, is serious about ending the economic decline. The new finance minister, Ahmed Galal, is a former World Bank official.

"This Cabinet has the makings of success, despite the difficult circumstances the country is experiencing," said Diaa Rashwan, head of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "There's a large force for change driven by popular will … [and] there is Arab and international support that is both economic and political."

Since Morsi's overthrow, authorities have moved to weaken the Brotherhood, issuing arrest warrants for its leaders and freezing their assets. Prosecutors have announced a criminal investigation of Morsi, who is in military detention, on allegations that include ruining the economy and spying.

Tens of thousands of Morsi backers protest nightly in front of Rabaa al Adawiya mosque, which has taken on the feel of a sprawling camp, with a field hospital, stage, media center, barbers and boys selling oranges among tents crammed with men who pray and seethe over the Brotherhood's drastic shift in fortunes.

But the camp no longer appears to be containing the rage. Young Islamists have marched toward the center of the city, edging closer to government buildings and Tahrir Square, the epicenter for the largely secular opposition that supported the coup and demonized Morsi as an Islamist who sought to drag Egypt back to the dark ages.

The Brotherhood told Sisi, commander of the armed forces, that Morsi "is the popularly elected president as you are devoid of right, a usurper of power and an overthrower of the people's will.... Revert from your coup and return to God; maybe he will forgive you."

The opposition youth movement known as Rebel, which organized mass protests against Morsi, said its members would not be deterred by bloodshed and Brotherhood threats. "Violence will not scare the Egyptian citizens," it said in a statement. The group told Brotherhood supporters that "your leaders are corrupt; leave them and return to the side of the Egyptian people."

An example of how dizzying things have become, and how groups, notably liberals, have reinvented opinions to justify supporting a military takeover came in an announcement this week from the anarchist group Black Bloc. The loosely defined organization indicated it might attempt to disrupt the Brotherhood sit-in at Rabaa al Adawiya.

In a statement reported by the news website Ahram Online, Black Bloc said, "The blood of our brothers is precious, regardless of whether they are police, army or civilians." A month ago, the group was hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at police and security forces.

The Brotherhood said the military's intent is to push the group out of politics and allow the old guard of toppled former President Hosni Mubarak to return to power.

But some analysts said the army is not maneuvering to destroy the Brotherhood and that the organization is keeping a significant street presence to strengthen its hand.

"I think the idea of purging the Brotherhood is not on the military's mind, so far. Now they are just trying to rein them in, but I think it's a fatal strategic error," said Hazem Hosny, a political science professor at Cairo University. "Remaining in this game allows the Brotherhood to gain more ground on a daily basis."

"The Brotherhood is now raising its ceiling of demands, raising its voice, changing tactics, and trying to have a strong presence on the ground so that they hold high cards when they do negotiate with the military."

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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