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.”
He said the U.S. has “made that view clear to the Egyptian authorities – the existing transitional government included.”
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns remained in Cairo for the second day of a two-day visit. On Tuesday, State Department officials said that Burns had spoken to someone from the Muslim Brotherhood, but they would not say to whom or for how long they spoke or about what. A face-to-face meeting did not happen, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters, because of logistics. He did not elaborate.
El-Sissi’s new posting was one of many surprises in the new Cabinet. Rather than sweep the decks clear of all those who served during Morsi’s one year in office, the transitional government retained some of Morsi’s ministers, though none of those kept were affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor was there any member of the conservative Islamist Nour party in the new Cabinet. There were however, three Christians named to it.
Some of the appointments were arranged hastily. Khaled Abd el Aziz, the newly named minister of youth who’d held the same position during the 18 months between Morsi’s inauguration and the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, told McClatchy that Prime Minister Beblawi called him Tuesday morning to asking him to rejoin the government. He said he accepted the post by noon. He was sworn in at 3 p.m.
Osama Saleh, Morsi’s minister of investment, retained his post, as did Morsi’s minister of tourism, Hisham Zazou, who tried twice to resign in Morsi’s final days.
Mohammed Ibrahim, who oversaw an Interior Ministry whose police forces refused in the end to defend Morsi, will remain interior minister. Ahmed Galal, an economist and World Bank expert, was named minister of finance.
Three women were among the new Cabinet members – the minister of health, the minister of environment and the minister of information. But Mansour has vowed to eventually shut down the Ministry of Information, as Egyptians see it as a tool of government propaganda.
Lesley Clark and Hannah Allam contributed from Washington to this report.