CAIRO -- The Egyptian general who announced that President Mohammed Morsi had been removed from office was named the country’s first deputy prime minister on Tuesday, a sign that the military, despite asserting it had no interest in governing, intended to maintain its influence.
The title is the third one bestowed on Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who will maintain his portfolios as defense minister and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. If that were not enough to delineate his influence on events here, a photo of the new 34-member Cabinet did. El-Sissi is front and center, to the left of Transitional President Adly Mansour, who el-Sissi appointed. The country’s new prime minister is on Mansour’s right.
Newly named Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who was appointed last week as the country’s vice president for foreign affairs and is considered the voice of the country’s liberal movement, was not in the photo, reportedly because the vice president is not technically a member of the prime minister’s government.
The nation is deeply divided between a majority that supports the military overthrow of Morsi and backers of Morsi, who demand that he be reinstated. An overnight clash between Morsi supporters marching toward downtown Cairo from the Rabaa district where they’ve gathered for the past two weeks left seven people dead and at least 261 injured, according to the Ministry of Health.
Reports indicated that the Morsi supporters not only fought security forces but were attacked by nearby residents as well.
El-Sissi’s appointment as the deputy to Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, 76, is likely to keep alive discussion of whether the July 3 action against Morsi was a coup d’etat and undercut the military’s repeated assertion that it would not take part in politics. El-Sissi is now the fifth general in the new government. Earlier, Mansour named three generals to his administration – the chief of staff, the head of intelligence and the head of security. Lt. Gen. Reda Hafez was sworn in Tuesday as minister of military production.
Since Morsi’s ouster, hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested, including the group’s supreme leader, Mohammed Badie, and dozens of others are being sought. The military closed down television news stations that were sympathetic to the Brotherhood, and 10 days ago, more than 50 pro-Morsi protesters were killed in clashes with the military and police under circumstances that remain unclear.
Analysts noted that el-Sissi’s new title came without portfolio, suggesting that his influence will be as great or as little as he wishes.
“Believe me, the title doesn’t matter,” one official close to the new government, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic, told McClatchy. “He is already influential.”
In Washington, where the Obama administration has avoided calling Morsi’s ouster a coup, White House spokesman Jay Carney decline to address el-Sissi’s appointment directly. But he expressed concern about recent developments.
“Not everything that we’ve seen in the last two weeks demonstrates progress toward reconciliation,” Carney said, adding that “anything that moves Egypt away from reconciliation and towards further polarization is an unfavorable development, and that includes some of the violence we’ve seen as well as some of the arbitrary arrests and detentions that we’ve seen.”