CAIRO — A dispute over who would become Egypt's interim prime minister continued Sunday, with sharp divisions opening about the proper scope of religion in the country's politics.
With both defenders and opponents of former President Mohammed Morsi calling their supporters to the streets on Sunday, there were fears of renewed clashes between sides in a repeat of Friday, when 36 people died.
Egyptian state media on Saturday reported — and later rolled back the announcement — that Mohamed ElBaradei, a former chief of the U.N. nuclear agency, had been appointed Egypt's interim prime minister. The reversal came after Islamists who joined in the coalition against Morsi threatened to withdraw their support if ElBaradei were installed. The unusual back-and-forth suggested that ElBaradei — a divisive figure in Egypt who is seen as a staunch secularist by groups who want a greater role for religion in politics — may have proved too controversial a choice as prime minister.
As reports of ElBaradei's selection filtered out, leaders of a main party of the ultraconservative Islamist movement known as Salafis — al-Nour — threatened to withdraw from the coalition of groups backing a path to elections. Many Islamists view ElBaradei as uninterested in giving them a say in Egypt's affairs.
"Baradei in a way is kind of the ultimate liberal," said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center. "He has a very antagonistic relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is why it doesn't bode well for Brotherhood reintegration" if he were to come to power.
Just as the democratically elected Morsi experienced a remarkable fall from grace last week, ElBaradei's unelected rise to the position of prime minister would have marked a remarkable turnaround for a politician who has struggled to find support outside Egypt's urban, educated classes.