Can anyone bring Egyptians back together?

The anti-Morsi coalition bogs down over who should be interim prime minister

An Egyptian man cries after carrying the corpse of his brother
(Image credit: AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, held back on naming liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei as his prime minister, after a leading, ultraconservative Islamist party, Al Nour, objected to the selection of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning longtime diplomat. Al Nour was the only Islamist party to back the overthrow of the elected President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but on Monday it pulled out of negotiations over forming a provisional government after soldiers killed dozens of Islamist protesters outside the military compound where Morsi was being held.

State media outlets reported on Sunday that Ziad Bahaa el-Din, a former head of Egypt's investment authority, might be named as interim prime minister instead. One Nour leader said he was "one of the liberal figures that we greatly respect," while others rejected him, too. Leaders of the Tamarod, or "Rebel" movement, which spearheaded the protests that let to Morsi's ouster, said the group "would not recognize" or "deal with" any prime minister other than ElBaradei.

Will anyone be able to bring Egypt's feuding factions together as the country spirals into chaos?

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Morsi was only elected a year ago, and the military's decision to give him the boot was bound to trigger an angry backlash from the Islamists who helped him win a narrow majority in the country's first free elections. Reconciliation was never going to be easy between the opposition and Morsi loyalists. But David Kenner at Foreign Policy notes that the battle over the selection of the interim prime minister suggests that even keeping together the anti-Morsi coalition could prove to be an impossible task.

If Egypt's main Salafist party gets a veto over such central decisions, what can the interim government accomplish? This isn't going to be the last area of contention: In upcoming discussions to amend the country's constitution, the Nour Party is undoubtedly going to fight to preserve, or even strengthen, the role of Islamic law. By trying to please everyone, Egypt's new government runs the risk of accomplishing nothing. [Foreign Policy]

It is a bit early to be predicting the failure of the provisional government that will lead the country to new elections. Still, says Patrick Martin at the Toronto Globe and Mail, this "was an embarrassing stumble out of the gate by the new military-backed leadership." It shows, he says, "how hard it is to reconcile the secular and leftist opposition with ultra-religious Islamists who represent opposite poles of the political spectrum." In a way, though, the fact that the army is even permitting such bickering over the makeup of the new government is an encouraging sign, according to some leaders quoted by Martin.

"Some people say the military is running everything here," said an adviser to [Amr Mousa, a former Egyptian foreign minister and head of the Arab League,] who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "If that were the case, the army would have named someone as prime minister and there would have been no questions asked."The leadership advisory group was expected to agree on a full cabinet of technocrats as early as this week. "The sooner the better," the adviser added. "We need to get out the message: to the world that the situation is under control; to the Egyptian people that life can return to normal, and to the Muslim Brotherhood that it's game over." [Globe and Mail]

What makes the job of the new prime minister — whoever it is — so tricky is that Al Nour is more hardline than the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leaders wanted Egypt's new constitution to enshrine Islamic law, and was angry at the dominant Brotherhood for watering it down in a nod, however feeble, to the secular opposition. The military's move against Morsi, however, provided a political opening for Nour's leaders, so now they are offering the anti-coalition the Islamist support it must have to claim legitimacy. One thing is certain, says David D. Kirkpatrick at The New York Times: "The bedfellows could not be stranger."

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.