CAIRO – Hazem Beblawi, a leading liberal economist, was named Egypt’s caretaker prime minister on Tuesday, ending days of speculation after the first choice for the position was abruptly withdrawn due to opposition from Islamists.
The interim government also announced that Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and secular opposition leader who was reportedly the initial pick for prime minister, would be vice president of foreign affairs, a new position.
In that post, ElBaradei could serve as a liaison with Western countries concerned about Egypt’s direction since the military ousted the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup last week. ElBaradei’s name was removed from consideration for the prime minister post after the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party, a key part of the coalition that forced Morsi’s removal, said it would withdraw from the transition process if he were confirmed.
Beblawi, in his 70s, served for several months as finance minister and deputy prime minister in the transitional government that followed the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. He resigned in October in protest over the killings by security forces of two dozen Coptic Christian protesters.
In recent months, Beblawi was sharply critical of Morsi’s economic leadership, particularly a lack of transparency and failure to stem Egypt’s rising budget deficit.
Gehad Haddad, a spokesman for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, said in an interview with Al Jazeera English that the choice of Beblawi was further evidence of “an anti-revolution enshrined by a military coup.”
The Brotherhood has called for a national uprising in retaliation for the shooting deaths Monday of 51 pro-Islamist demonstrators in east Cairo. Senior leaders on Tuesday rejected a timetable issued by the military-backed interim president, Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour, that calls for amending the constitution and holding fresh elections within six months.
In a statement read on state television, the armed forces said they were “marching forward, in confident steps, in absolute transparency” toward a restoration of democratic rule.
But anti-Morsi groups also expressed concern about the timetable, saying it was issued without their input. The youth movement Rebel, which organized the protests that forced Morsi’s ouster, said on its Facebook page that it was surprised by the decree.
Hassieb is a Times special correspondent.