CAIRO – Seeking to reassure the outside world after a turbulent week of street protests, Egypt’s military-backed interim leaders on Tuesday appointed a caretaker prime minister and urged citizens to support a six-month timetable to revise the constitution and hold fresh elections.
The announcement of Hazem Beblawi, a leading liberal economist, as prime minister ended days of confusion after the first choice for the post was abruptly withdrawn because of opposition from conservative Islamists. Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the secular opposition leader who was reportedly the initial pick for the post, was named vice president of foreign affairs, a new position that would make him Egypt’s face to the West.
The appointments – and the relatively swift timetable for new elections – laid out the military’s road map to restoring democracy. But it came with a stark warning to end the unrest that followed last week’s military ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi.
The Obama administration said it was “cautiously encouraged” by the timeline, a further signal that it would not cut off $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt.
The military’s moves came as Egyptian prosecutors began interrogating hundreds of suspects in Monday’s bloody attack outside the Republican Guard headquarters in east Cairo, where soldiers fired on a pro-Brotherhood sit-in, leaving more than 50 Morsi supporters dead.
Brotherhood supporters continued to seethe from the incident, the deadliest in a week of clashes nationwide, and hundreds marched in a symbolic funeral Tuesday carrying empty coffins draped with the Egyptian flag.
Jeffrey Martini, a Middle East analyst at the Rand Corp., saw Tuesday’s announcements as a sign that the military understood it was at risk of alienating its Western backers. “They realized their position was precarious” after Monday’s killings, Martini said. “This is a statement that ‘we know we’ve overreached – we’ve got to do something to placate the international community.’ ”