Egypt’s new military rulers appear set to appoint Mohamed ElBaradei as interim Prime Minister, to partially fill the institutional vacuum that has arisen following a bloodless coup which toppled President Mohamed Morsy earlier this week.
However, the appointment of Mr. ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, could further energise seething protests Mr. Morsy’s supporters have mounted.
The protests peaked on Friday night but after overnight pitched battles between the supporters and foes of the deposed President, a massive cleanup operation began on a Nile bridge, not far from Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square.
An army of municipality workers who descended on the bridge and its feeder arteries early on Saturday had a tough time removing telltale signs of the previous night’s furious encounter — rocks hewn out of pavements, broken remnants of glass from what were Molotov cocktails, charred sheets of metal that had been used as shields by the incensed battlers in their incendiary back-and-forth.
Yet, the lasting image of Friday night’s fighting was the arrival of a convoy of armoured vehicles that speeded up the bridge.
A hail of birdshots and teargas from the troops commandeering these vehicles quickly dispersed Mr. Morsy’s supporters.
Victorious foot soldiers of the anti-Morsy camp then clambered atop the troop carriers for a free ride, sometimes posing ecstatically for pictures with the soldiers and shouting the oft-repeated slogan — “The people and police are one hand.”
The open display of partisanship by the military captured the essence of Egypt’s deeply polarised conflict — that the balance of power on the street was grossly in favour of the anti-Morsy camp.
Despite the spirited riposte on Friday by the Islamists, and much bloodshed — 37 people were killed all over Egypt in the clashes according to an official count — the military-backed coalition of secularists, leftists and religious minorities seemed set to escalate their feud with the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.