CAIRO –Secular and liberal factions in Egypt’s new leadership worked Sunday to reach a compromise with ultraconservative Islamists on a new prime minister, with a liberal economist emerging as a leading candidate for the post to run the country after the military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.
As the negotiations continued over the post, the shows of strength over the removal of Egypt’s first freely elected president were far from ending, with hundreds of thousands in the streets Sunday from each side. The military deployed troops at key locations in Cairo and other cities amid fears of renewed violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood pushed ahead with its campaign of protests aimed at forcing Morsi’s reinstatement, bringing out large crowds in new rallies. Its officials vowed the group would not be “terrorized” by arrests of their leaders and the shutdown of their media outlets.
The Brotherhood’s opponents, in turn, called out large rallies in Tahrir Square and other squares in Cairo and several cities to defend against an Islamist counter-push. The rallies took on a sharply nationalist tone – with effusive praise of the military and strong anti-American sentiment over perceived U.S. support for Morsi and his Brotherhood.
Military warplanes swooped over the crowd filling Tahrir, drawing a heart shape and an Egyptian flag in the sky with colored smoke. In the square, 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.
The tone appeared aimed at drowning out cries from the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies that the army’s toppling of Morsi was a coup against democracy. The anti-American slogans 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 here.
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 June 30, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson said in a speech that she was “deeply skeptical” protests would be fruitful and defended U.S. relations with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood as necessary because the group is part of the democratically elected Egyptian government.
Since Morsi’s removal Wednesday, it 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 West, the USA and Great Britain are hypocrites,” said protester Magdi Iskandar, 59-year-businessman. “There is a big conspiracy against Egypt. They don’t want us to have true democracy.”
Many carried posters of the army’s chief, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
“Come out el-Sissi, and teach the Brotherhood a lesson,” protesters chanted.
In the prime minister negotiations, 48-year-old liberal economist Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a longtime critic of the Brotherhood and reform advocate, emerged as a leading candidate, a spokesman of the interim president told Egypt’s ONTV.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Bahaa-Eldin confirmed his name was put forward, saying he “is still thinking about it.”
His name emerged after a ultraconservate Salafi party blocked a move Saturday by liberal and secular factions to appoint the country’s most prominent reform figure, Mohammed ElBaradei. Under the compromise, ElBaradei would be named vice president.
The negotiations reflected a central tension in the collection of groups that backed the military in its removal of Morsi. Most of those groups are liberal, secular, leftist or “revolutionary” and they are determined to get one of their own in the main leadership after a year of Islamist rule under Morsi.
But there is one major Islamist faction among their ranks — the ultraconservative al-Nour Party, which broke with Morsi months ago.
ElBaradei is considered one of the inspirations of the revolutionary groups that led the 2011 uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak. But many Islamists distrust him, seeing him as too secular.
Liberal and secular factions were infuriated by al-Nour’s rejection of ElBaradei. The youth activist group Tamarod accused it of “blackmail” and arm-twisting.” But at the same time, they are eager to keep al-Nour on their side to show that Morsi’s removal had support among at least some in the Islamist movement.
A senior official in the National Salvation Front, in which ElBaradei is a leader and Bahaa-Eldin is a member, said ElBaradei would accept the compromise if Bahaa-Eldin does as well, with the two seen as partners in a leadership team. During the transition, the prime minister will hold most governing powers, with the president a largely ceremonial post. A top judge, Adly Mansour, was sworn in last week as interim president.
The prime minister will also likely have strong influence on the process of writing a new constitution. That’s a major concern of al-Nour, which pushed hard for the Islamic character of the charter pushed through under Morsi’s administration, which was suspended after his ouster.
Walid el-Masry, of Tamarod, said al-Nour is using the ElBaradei issue to press liberals on the constitution, worried about changes to the Islamist-drafted charter.
“They are afraid about the articles that concern the state’s Islamic identity,” he said, adding that the liberals assured Salafis that they won’t touch these articles.
The Islamists have denounced the removal of Morsi as an army coup against democracy. Their opponents have argued the president had squandered his electoral mandate and that the Brotherhood was putting Egypt on an undemocratic path.
Pro-Morsi rallies turned out in several places around the city Sunday, centered outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque where they have been holding a sit-in for more than a week.
In a Facebook posting Sunday, the Brotherhood’s supreme leader Mohammed Badie said the “leaders of the unconstitutional coup continue flagrant violations against the Egyptian people.”
Senior Brotherhood member Saad Emara said there was no possibility for any negotiations with the new leadership after “all betrayed us,” and following the military’s clampdown on the group.
“We are not regressing to a Mubarak era but to ... a totalitarian regime,” he told The Associated Press. “Anything other than protest is suicide.”
Morsi and five top Brotherhood figures are currently in detention, and around 200 others have arrest warrants out against them. The group’s TV station and three other pro-Morsi Islamist stations were put off the air. Among those detained is Badie’s deputy Khairat el-Shater, seen as the most powerful figure in the group and its main decision-maker.
A Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, said the military is not giving any positive signals for the group to be willing to talk, pointing to the arrests of the leadership figures and shutdowns of media.
“They are trying to terrorize us,” he said.
Outside Rabaa al-Adawiya, Brotherhood supporters waved flags as young men wearing makeshift helmets jogged in place and did calisthenics, as part of security teams the group says are to defend its rallies from attack.
“Do we not deserve democracy, aren’t we worth anything?” said an emotional Alaa el-Saim, a retired army engineer in a broad-brimmed hat to protect from the sun. He pointed to the shooting by troops on Friday of pro-Morsi protesters. “It’s the first time I’ve seen that, the army shoots at us with weapons they bought with the taxes I paid.”
Khaled Galal, a young bearded man in a skull cap, called the army’s actions the “rape of legitimacy.”
“Muslims aren’t allowed democracy, and when we pick up weapons to defend it we get called terrorists,” he said.