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Egypt's revolt against Morsy leads down familiar, unstable path

| Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

CAIRO — Egypt's interim president on Tuesday appointed a prime minister and vice president, moves designed to lend an air of normalcy to the country even as indications mounted that the president is little more than a civilian face for military rule.

The appointments happened hours after interim president Adly Mansour outlined a path to quick elections and a return to democracy after the coup last week that overthrew Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsy.

The plan presented by Mansour drew immediate condemnation from Morsy's supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, but it also elicited a lukewarm response from key players in the loose alliance of politicians and activists who had lobbied for Morsi's ouster.

One group that had been central to the anti-Morsy movement said it had not been consulted on Mansour's plan, which provides for few independent checks on the president's power until a constitutional referendum and elections that are due within six months.

Egypt's military insists that Morsy's dismissal was not a coup and that civilians are firmly in charge. But events of the past week suggest that Mansour — who was a little-known judge before he was thrust into the presidency — remains subservient to the nation's powerful generals.

Mansour did not not make any public appearances to announce his moves, communicating instead through written statements and leaks to the news media.

The commander of Egypt's armed forces, however, did speak. In a recorded statement broadcast Tuesday on Egyptian television, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told the nation that the new president's declaration provided “more than enough assurance” that the country was moving in the right direction.

The road map outlined a “specific timetable for every step of the rebuilding of the constitution in a way that will guarantee and achieve the will of the people,” Sissi said. “And that means the landmarks of the path are determined and clear.”

The Obama administration has pressed Egypt's generals to set a clear course for returning to democracy and has urged them to avoid arbitrary arrests or other acts of reprisal against the Brotherhood, an Islamist group the military has long sought to oppress.

But nearly a week after Morsy's ouster, he and a group of top aides remain cut off from the world, having been effectively detained without charge. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants against hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members. Two Islamist television channels thrown off the air in the minutes after Morsy's ouster remained dark.

The Brotherhood, meanwhile, has accused the military of carrying out “a massacre” on Monday, when Egyptian security forces opened fire on pro-Morsy demonstators, killing at least 51 people. The military has said that it was attacked first, a charge that the Brotherhood denies.

Mohamed Tawfik, Egypt's ambassador to the United States, made the rounds on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of lawmakers are calling for a suspension of Washington's $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, most of which goes to the country's military.

The Obama administration is working to keep Congress from invoking a cutoff of that aid, which is mandatory in the event of a military coup, a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The legislation requiring suspension of aid in the event of a coup has no waiver provision. “Nobody wants to cut off assistance to Egypt,” the official said.

Tawfik said in an interview that suspension of Egypt's aid would be a “drastic mistake.” Although the amount is “not that significant,” he said, a cutoff of aid would have enormous symbolic and psychological effect on U.S.-Egypt relations.

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