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Mideast rivals bid to influence change in Egypt

WASHINGTON — Two of the Persian Gulf's richest monarchies pledged $8 billion in cash and loans to Egypt on Tuesday, a decision aimed not only at shoring up a shaky transitional government but also at undermining their Islamist rivals and strengthening their allies across a turbulent Middle East.

The robust financial aid package announced by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates came a day after the Egyptian military killed dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members protesting last week's military removal of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

The aid package underscored a regional contest between Saudi Arabia and Qatar for influence, which has accelerated since the Arab uprising upended the status quo and brought Islamists to power.

Qatar, in alliance with Turkey, has given financial and diplomatic support to the Muslim Brotherhood but also to other Islamists operating on the battlefields of Syria and, before that, Libya. The Saudis and Emiratis, by comparison, have sought to restore the old authoritarian order, fearful that Islamist movements and calls for democracy would destabilize their own nations.

The promise to provide so much assistance also highlighted the limits of U.S. leverage: The United States provides Egypt $1.5 billion in annual aid, a fraction of what the gulf states have promised. But the gulf intervention contrasted sharply with the Obama administration's uncertainty about how to respond to last week's military takeover and how to influence the increasingly fragmented Arab world.

Meanwhile, Egypt's interim president, Adly Monsour, appointed a liberal economist, Hazem el-Beblawi, as prime minister and named diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president. The appointments appeared intended to reassure Egypt's Western allies and its donors. El-Beblawi served as finance minister under an earlier interim government.

Mansour also set out a timetable for elections. Two appointed panels would draw up and approve amendments to the constitution, which would be put to a referendum within 4 ½ months. Elections for a new parliament would be held within two months of that. Once the parliament convenes, it would have a week to set a date for presidential elections.

The plan drew opposition from civilian leaders across the political spectrum — including the liberals and activists who sought to oust Morsi, the faction of ultraconservative Islamists who joined them and those demanding Morsi's reinstatement.

Egyptian supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi hold his posters as they stand on a barricade facing soldiers near the Republican Guards Headquarter in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies vowed to continue protests until Morsi is brought back to power. The army forced him from office last week after mass street protests demanded the ouster.

European Pressphoto Agency

Egyptian supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi hold his posters as they stand on a barricade facing soldiers near the Republican Guards Headquarter in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies vowed to continue protests until Morsi is brought back to power. The army forced him from office last week after mass street protests demanded the ouster.

Mideast rivals bid to influence change in Egypt 07/09/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 3:43am]
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