The continuing chaos in Egypt in the aftermath of last Wednesday’s military coup has been compounded further after the choice of liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradeias interim prime minister was thrown into doubt by objections from conservative groups.
ElBaradei’s nomination had been confirmed by several sources and state media on Saturday, but just before midnight a presidential spokesman told reporters that no prime minister had yet been chosen.
“After some satellite channels declared that the new government will be announced tonight and mentioned the new prime minister’s name (referring to Elbaradei), I’m here to confirm that this is still a prediction and that it is still under consultation and negotiations,” Ahmed el-Musilamani, spokesman for the interim president Adly Mansour said in a public statement.
The abrupt U-turn came amid opposition to ElBaradei’s appointment by the Nour Party, Egypt’s second-largest religious force that backed the military coup that toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The dispute has highlighted the challenges the military faces in finding consensus among liberals and conservatives on who should run the country.
The Al-Nour Party’s deputy leader Ahmed Khalil told the state news website that the party would withdraw from the political transition process if ElBaradei was confirmed in his post.
Authorities acknowledged that there had been strong opposition to the possible appointment of the liberal Egyptian politician, but said that he was the most possible choice.
“ElBaradei is the strongest candidate,” Muslimani said. “He is on top of the list of names” under discussion, he said.
Meanwhile, tension was still running high in the divided nation with opponents and supporters of Morsi remaining on the streets. Deadly clashes between them on Friday that continued until early on Saturday had claimed at least 30 lives and left more than 1,000 wounded.
When initial news of ElBaradei’s choice was leaked it was greeted with cheers outside Cairo’s Ittihadiya presidential palace, where opponents of Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, frantically waved Egyptian flags and honked car horns.
Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said that the view from the Egyptian people was that ElBaradei would bring about further divisions in the country.
Mohamad Elmasry, a professor at the American University of Cairo, told Al Jazeera it was possible the announcement had been made by state media to gauge reaction to the appointment.
“He is not a popular figure here, even though he is known to the West,” Elmasry said.
“He is not going to appease the pro-Morsi supporters, but revolutionary figures are also disappointed in him.”
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Nasr City, said the reaction from the Morsi’s camp when it was thought the appointment was confirmed was one of rejection and anger.
Elshayyal said: “One of the protesters here said that the appointment of ElBaradei is a move directed at appeasing the US and that he served them well, allowing for the invasion of Iraq when he was in the International Atomic Energy Agency and will now be their puppet again – we all know he is a puppet.”
Another person said that ElBaradei was even too scared to nominate himself in the elections. “That’s how little support he has – he needed the army to put him in office. So to sum up the mood here: it is rejection, anger and dismissal,” Elshayyal said.