With Gulf aid, Egypt looks forward to new elections
Cairo, July 10, 2013
Egypt's interim authorities, boosted by $8 billion in Gulf aid, start work on forming a cabinet on Wednesday, a week after the elected Islamist president was ousted by the army leading to a wave of violence in which at least 90 people were killed.
Wrangling between political groups over a decree setting the rules for the transition, designed to usher in parliamentary elections within about six months, could point to a bumpy road ahead.
Events of the last seven days are sure to overshadow the normally festive start to the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins on Wednesday, with Egypt's 84 million people more divided than at any time in their modern history.
Meanwhile, wealthy Gulf states, long suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood, stepped in swiftly with financial support that could relieve pressure on the transitional authorities at a time of economic stagnation.
The United Arab Emirates offered a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion. Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans, and an additional $2 billion worth of fuel.
Coffers are desperately short since Arab Spring unrest drove away tourists and investors.
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday spoke by phone to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to discuss concerns about violent protests in Egypt.
"The President encouraged the UAE to underscore in its engagements with Egyptians the importance of avoiding violence and taking steps to enable dialogue and reconciliation," the White House said in a statement about Obama's call with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
"The President and Emir Tamim agreed that a political process that includes participation by all parties and groups is critical for Egypt's stability," the White House said in a separate statement about Obama's call with Qatar's Emir.
ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK
On the political front, where the army is under pressure to plot a path back to democracy quickly, it seemed to be a case of one step forward, one step back.
Tuesday saw progress when interim head of state Adli Mansour named liberal economist Hazem el-Beblawi as acting prime minister and former UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei as deputy president responsible for foreign affairs.
But underlining the scale of the task ahead, ElBaradei's National Salvation Front, Egypt's main liberal coalition, itself rejected the constitutional decree and demanded changes be made.
Less surprisingly, the Brotherhood, which has rejected all cooperation with the military-backed interim powers, also dismissed the decree, while the ultra-conservative Nour Party, which initially backed the road map, said it was not satisfied.
On the other side of the political divide, the Tamarud youth movement which mobilised millions to take to the streets against Mursi, said the decree had not been run past them, and they would propose amendments.
The United States gave a cautious welcome to the road map to quick elections on Tuesday.
"We are encouraged the interim government has laid out a plan for the path forward," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing in Washington.
She said the Obama administration had been in touch with representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood but that there had been no contact with Mursi since his arrest.
Thousands of Islamists rallied outside a mosque in northeast Cairo overnight, where they have braved the heat and dust in a 12-day vigil, refusing to budge until toppled President Mohamed Mursi is returned to power.
Just a few hundred metres away, outside the military barracks where he is believed to be held, 55 Mursi supporters were killed at dawn on Monday when troops opened fire.
The movement says the victims were praying in peace. The government says the Islamists provoked the violence by attacking the soldiers.
The authorities announced an investigation into 650 suspects for offences from "thuggery" to murder and terrorism. Egyptian state media praised the army and denounced Monday's violence as the work of terrorists.
Amnesty International said that whether or not the security forces acted in response to provocations, they were guilty of using "grossly disproportionate force".
JOY, THEN DESPAIR
Egyptians are still reeling a week after Mursi's overthrow, which initially sparked wild celebrations in Cairo and beyond by millions of people who wanted him gone, fed up with economic stagnation and what they saw as an Islamist power grab.
To Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, however, his removal amounted to the reversal of democracy by entrenched interests who would never accept their election victories. The Brotherhood denies it had an aggressive Islamist agenda.
Fearing a return to the suppression endured for decades under autocratic rulers, members of the long-banned movement took to the streets. On Friday, pro- and anti-Mursi protesters clashed in running street battles that swept the country. Some 35 people were killed.
"The only road map is the restoration of the president elected by the people," said Hoda Ghaneya, 45, a Muslim Brotherhood activist. "We will not accept less than that," she said. "Even if they kill us all."
In lawless North Sinai, two people were killed and six wounded late on Tuesday when Islamist militants attacked a checkpoint, amid concern that the anger is behind a spike in violence in the region bordering Israel.
Monday's bloodshed raised alarm among key donors such as the United States and the European Union, as well as in Israel, with which Egypt has had a U.S.-backed peace treaty since 1979. - Reuters