CAIRO — Egyptian authorities escalated their crackdown on Wednesday on the Muslim Brotherhood by ordering the arrest of its spiritual leader, while the group remained steadfast in its defiance of the new military-backed administration and refused offers to join an interim government.
Even as the new prime minister began reaching out to form a Cabinet and restore a measure of stability, the military-backed leadership has come under fierce criticism from those who supported its toppling of President Mohammed Morsi last week. Several groups in the loose coalition participating in the political process have sharply criticized the transitional plan, saying that sidelines them in the transition.
After a week of violence and mass demonstrations, Egyptians were hoping that the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday will significantly calm the turmoil in the streets. The sunrise-to-sunset fast cuts down on activity during the day, but the daily protests have been largely nocturnal affairs, and some observers expect the Islamist camp will likely use it to rally its base.
The prosecutor’s arrest warrant issued Wednesday for the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, as well as nine other leading Islamists, will almost certainly stoke anger among the group’s supporters and fellow Islamists. The men are suspected of instigating the violence on Monday outside of a Republican Guard building in Cairo that left more than 50 Morsi supporters dead, according to a statement issued by the prosecutor general’s office.
The killings further entrenched the battle lines between supporters and opponents of Morsi, and the ousted leader’s Brotherhood backers called for an uprising, accusing troops of gunning down protesters. The military blamed armed Islamists for provoking its forces.
Still, the warrants highlight the military’s zero-tolerance policy toward the Brotherhood and other Islamists, who continue to hold daily mass protests and sit-ins demanding reinstating Morsi and rejecting what they describe as a military coup. The military already has jailed five of Brotherhood leaders, including Badie’s powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater, and shut down their media outlets. Morsi himself remains in custody in an undisclosed location.
In the face of Islamist opposition, the military-backed interim president, Adly Mansour, issued a fast-track timetable on Monday for the transition. His declaration set out a seven-month timetable for elections but also a truncated, temporary constitution laying out the division of powers in the meantime.
The accelerated process was meant, in part, to send reassurances to the U.S. and other Western allies that the country is on a path toward democratically-based leadership.
But it has faced opposition from the very groups that led the four days of mass protests that prompted the military to step in last Wednesday.
The top liberal political grouping, the National Salvation Front, expressed reservations over the plan late Tuesday, saying it was not consulted -- “in violation of previous promises” -- and that the declaration “lacks significant clauses while others need change or removal.” It did not elaborate but said it had presented Mansour with changes it seeks.
The secular, revolutionary youth movement Tamarod that organized last week’s protests, also criticized the plan, in part because it gives too much power to Mansour, including the power to issue laws. A post-Morsi plan put forward by Tamarod called for a largely ceremonial interim president with most power in the hands of the prime minister.
At the heart of liberals’ objections is that they wanted to write a new constitution, not amend the one written under Morsi by an Islamist-dominated panel. That constitution contained several articles that drew fierce criticism from liberal quarters, and helped sparked street protests and violence in 2012. Other objections centered on superpowers of the interim president.
However, the only Islamist party that backed military’s ouster of Morsi after millions took to the streets on June 30 demanding him to leave, has been vetoing rewriting the constitution.
Meanwhile, new Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who was appointed by the interim president on Tuesday, is holding consultations on a Cabinet that will face the difficult task of guiding the deeply divided country through what promises to be a rocky transition period. In what is seen as an attempt at reconciliation, el-Beblawi has said he will offer the Brotherhood, which helped propel Morsi to the presidency, posts in his transitional government.
A Brotherhood spokesman said the group will not take part in an interim Cabinet, and that talk of national reconciliation under the current circumstances is “irrelevant.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns for his security.
The rejection laid bare the monumental task the interim leadership faces in trying stabilize the country and bridge the deep fissures splitting the country. The nascent government also will soon face demands that it tackle economic woes that mounted under Morsi, including fuel shortages, electricity cutoffs and inflation.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provided a welcome boost for the new leadership on Tuesday. The two countries, both opponents of Morsi’s Brotherhood, celebrated his ouster by showering the cash-strapped Egyptian government with promises of $8 billion in grants, loans and badly needed gas and oil.
In doing so, they are effectively stepping in for Morsi’s Gulf patron, Qatar, a close ally of the Brotherhood that gave his government several billion in aid. During Morsi’s year in office, he and his officials toured multiple countries seeking cash to prop up rapidly draining foreign currency reserves and plug mounting deficits -- at times getting a cold shoulder.