CAIRO — Facing unrelenting pressure from Muslim Brotherhood protesters, Egypt’s military chief sought to justify his decision to oust President Mohammed Morsi, saying Sunday in a televised speech that the Islamist leader had violated his popular mandate and antagonized state institutions.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi made the comments, his first since the president’s ouster nearly two weeks ago, as the designated interim prime minister pushed ahead with talks to form a new cabinet this week.
Reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei was sworn in as Egypt’s interim vice president for international relations on Sunday. The move reinforces the role of liberals in the new leadership who are strongly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Several secular-minded candidates also have been approached to lead the foreign, finance, culture, information, and other key ministries.
Nabil Fahmy, who served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States for more than a decade under the autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, was tapped to be foreign minister, according to state media.
The United States sent its No. 2 diplomat in the State Department, William Burns, to Cairo to meet with interim government officials as well as civil society and business leaders during his two-day visit.
Mr. Burns is the first high-level American official to visit since Mr. Morsi’s ouster.
Many in the international community fear that the ouster of Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, will undermine Egypt’s transition to democracy.
The State Department said Mr. Burns would underscore U.S. support for the Egyptian people and a transition leading to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government.
The United States has called for Mr. Morsi’s release. Since his ouster, Mr. Morsi has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location.
General el-Sissi said the armed forces acted to remove Mr. Morsi on July 3 according to the will of the people as the country was sliding toward deeper polarization and more violence.
“The armed forces sincerely accepted the choice of the people, but then political decision-making began stumbling,” General el-Sissi said.
“The armed forces remained committed to what it considered the legitimacy of the ballot box, even though that very legitimacy began to do as it pleased and in a way that contradicted the basis and the origin of this legitimacy.”
Mr. Morsi was elected after months of turmoil following the 2011 revolution that removed Mubarak from office. The transition was marred by persistent protests, political disagreements, and an economy teetering on bankruptcy.
Morsi supporters say the military staged a coup in a bid to undermine the rising influence of Islamists, and thousands have camped out for days near a mosque in eastern Cairo to demand he be reinstated.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mr. Morsi to power, has called for massive protests today to escalate pressure on the military.
Some Muslim Brotherhood leaders have called for General el-Sissi to be removed and put on trial for treason.