ElBaradei named Egyptian prime minister

By Michael Birnbaum, William Booth and Abigail Hauslohner | The Washington Post | July 6, 2013

Former U.N. nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has been appointed Egypt’s interim prime minister, one of his top aides said Saturday, giving a liberal and secular direction to a country that until three days ago was led by Islamists.

The appointment by interim President Adly Mansour gave Egypt a public face who will probably be viewed with unhappiness by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and others who believe religion should have a prominent role in Egypt’s political life. It appeared, however, to be a consensus pick among the coalition of Egyptian political parties and opposition movements that banded together to push for the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, on Wednesday.

With Mansour a virtual unknown in Egypt, ElBaradei is likely to take a leading role in the coming months as the nation comes up with a new constitution and system of governance.

“Dr. Baradei has been named the new prime minister,” said Rania Azab, a senior ElBaradei aide, speaking by telephone.

Just as the democratically elected Morsi experienced a remarkable fall from grace this week, ElBaradei’s unelected rise to the position of prime minister marked a remarkable turnaround for a politician who has struggled to find popular support outside Egypt’s urban, educated classes, in a country where roughly half the population lives on less than $2 a day.

ElBaradei had spent Saturday in meetings with other chiefs of Egypt’s new political order, including with Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Ministry of Defense, said Ahmed Said, an ally and leader of the Free Egyptians Party. Egyptian media reported Saturday evening that ElBaradei had been summoned to the presidential palace ahead of an announcement there.

During Egypt’s 2011 revolution, ElBaradei — the 2005 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — emerged as an early and harsh critic of former president Hosni Mubarak, who had led the country for three decades. But he always struggled to expand his support among the vast majority of Egyptians who had not prospered under Mubarak’s rule. ElBaradei spent much of his career outside Egypt, first as a diplomat within Egypt’s Foreign Ministry and then at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. He was director general of the agency from 1997 until 2009.

ElBaradei’s Constitution Party, founded after the country’s parliamentary elections, sought to unite Egyptians around the secular principles of the revolution, and many here see it intended as a counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which led the country until a coup toppled it on Wednesday night after days of massive popular protests.

Ahead of his appointment as interim prime minister, ElBaradei resigned from his position as party chief.

On Thursday, ElBaradei told CNN that he believed Egypt needs a more inclusive government than the one Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had created during their 368 days in power, adding that Egypt had risked a “civil war” before the military stepped in to push Morsi out of office.