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Egypt scrambles to find leaders; protests go on

Islamists asked to accept ouster, officials say

Egyptians waved the national flag as hundreds of thousands flooded Tahrir Square to protest the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

AFP/Getty Images

Egyptians waved the national flag as hundreds of thousands flooded Tahrir Square to protest the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

CAIRO — As the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies vowed to broaden their protests against the president’s ouster and their opponents held enormous counter-demonstrations, US diplomats sought to persuade the Islamist group to accept his overthrow, Brotherhood officials said.

Continuing a push for accommodation that began before the removal of President Mohammed Morsi last week, the US diplomats contacted Brotherhood leaders in an effort to persuade them to reenter the political process, an Islamist briefed on one of the conversations said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

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“They are asking us to legitimize the coup,” the Islamist said, arguing that accepting the removal of an elected president would be the death of Egyptian democracy. The US Embassy in Cairo declined to comment.

Even as both sides continued street demonstrations Sunday, Egypt’s new leaders continued their effort to form an interim government. Squabbles about a choice for prime minister spilled into the open Saturday, exposing splits among the country’s newly ascendant political forces.

Mohamed ElBaradei may serve as interim vice president of Egypt rather than president.

Getty Images/File

Mohamed ElBaradei may serve as interim vice president of Egypt rather than president.

State news media quoted a spokesman for Adly Mansour, the interim president, on Sunday as saying there was a “tendency” to name Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize-winning diplomat, as vice president, and a former chair of Egypt’s investment authority, Ziad Bahaa el-Din, as interim prime minister.

On Saturday, state news media said that ElBaradei had been chosen as prime minister, but the presidency later backed away from the report after ultraconservatives known as Salafis, who fault ElBaradei for being too secular, apparently rejected the appointment. It was not clear Sunday that the Salafi party, Al Nour, was any more inclined to accept ElBaradei as vice president.

Bahaa el-Din, a lawyer who served in the investment authority and on the board of the Central Bank under former President Hosni Mubarak, was abroad and was considering the request, according to a spokesman for his political party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

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The lack of agreement means that Egypt has been without a fully functioning government since Wednesday, when the defense minister, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sissi, announced that Morsi had been deposed.

The power vacuum has left confusion about who is responsible for making decisions in the interim, and in particular for law enforcement. During the past few days, the authorities have arrested Muslim Brotherhood officials and closed television stations, including Islamist channels, though it is not clear on whose orders the security services were acting.

On Sunday, Al Jazeera reported that prosecutors had interrogated its Cairo bureau chief, Abdel Fattah Fayed, for hours before releasing him on bail. Al Jazeera’s website said Fayed, who surrendered, was charged with running an unlicensed satellite channel and “transmitting news that could compromise Egypt’s national security.”

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the long-outlawed Islamist group that nominated Morsi for president, have sought to convince the world that his removal was illegal and untenable. They now say they intend to escalate their demonstrations across Egypt.

Brotherhood officials pledged that their growing protests would force the military to release Morsi, insisting no one else would negotiate on their behalf. “I think the military has to yield; they won’t have any choice,” said Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman.

“We are stepping it up every few days, with protests around the country,” Haddad said. “We are logistically capable of carrying this on for months.”

He said the protests themselves would turn into gathering places for the observation of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as it begins this week.

In Cairo, hundreds of thousands of Morsi’s opponents gathered in Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace, in what protesters said was an effort to counter claims to legitimacy made by the deposed president’s supporters.

In a mirror image of the pro-Morsi protests, many at the gathering seemed far less interested in swaying the Islamists than proving that their numbers were greater.

The gathering was also held “in appreciation” of the army’s role, and many people held portraits of Sissi or banners praising the military. Jets and helicopters that flew overhead gave the demonstration the feel of a ticker-tape, postwar rally.

But in an alleyway near the square, a group of young protesters talked about the toll of Egypt’s conflict, still far from over. They were longtime activists, and all had friends who had died in protests during Egypt’s transition. Now, their conversations with friends in the Muslim Brotherhood had become arguments.

Mai Mandour, a 23-year old law student, said her brother told her that Islamist neighbors had started shaving beards.

“Everyone’s worried about a civil war,” she said.

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