Egypt appoints economist Hazem Beblawi as caretaker prime minister

6-month timetable set for elections, new constitution

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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a leading liberal economist, as prime minister ended days of confusion after the first choice for the post was abruptly withdrawn because of opposition from conservative Islamists.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 ouster by the military of President Mohamed 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. But a bigger sign of approval came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which announced a total of $8 billion in economic aid for 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 over 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. The army has said it came under attack and opened fire in retaliation.

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 Western backers. "They realized their position was precarious" after Monday's killings, Mr. Martini said. "This is a statement that 'we know we've overreached -- we've got to do something to placate the international community.' "

The Brotherhood, as expected, rejected the constitutional road map issued late Monday and denounced the generals as "mutineers" and "dictators" who "do not respect the people." The group has demanded Mr. Morsi's reinstatement to office and called for a national uprising to avenge the killings.

But the plan also came under criticism from leftist groups that supported Mr. Morsi's removal. The youth movement Rebel tweeted that it amounted to a new "dictatorship" and granted too many powers to the interim president, Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour. Another anti-Morsi group, the April 6 movement, which helped lead the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, called the road map "a disappointment" because it was issued without outside input.

The army, which initially held power after the fall of Mubarak, was widely seen as having botched the transition to civilian rule. Both Islamists and secular groups accused the generals of holding too much power and making decisions behind closed doors. The civil unrest during and after the transition to civilian rule a year ago damaged the military's reputation and extensive economic interests, and the generals are said to be determined to avoid repeating that scenario.

In a statement on state television Tuesday, the military issued a stern warning against further violent protests and said Egypt was on the path toward restoring democracy. "The road forward is clear, drawn and determined, and gives everyone more than enough reassurance" that the transition will occur "clearly and transparently," the military said.

The interim prime minister, Mr. Beblawi, who is in his 70s, served for several months as finance minister and deputy prime minister in the transitional government that followed the Mubarak government's collapse. He resigned in October that year in protest over the killings by security forces of two dozen Coptic Christian protesters. In recent months, Mr. Beblawi was sharply critical of Mr. Morsi's economic leadership, particularly a lack of transparency and failure to stem Egypt's rising budget deficit.

Mr. ElBaradei's name was removed from consideration for prime minister over the weekend after the Islamist Nour Party, a key part of the coalition that forced Mr. Morsi's removal, said it would withdraw from the transition process if he were confirmed.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad Heddad told Al-Jazeera English that the appointments were further evidence of "an anti-revolution enshrined by a military coup."

The plan calls for a presidential election three months after a new constitution is ratified in a national referendum, which, in the unlikely event that the plan's deadlines are met, would come at the end of February 2014.



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