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Could Mohamed ElBaradei Be Egypt's Next Ruler?

CAIRO -- It's now less than two hours before the Egyptian military lays out its plan for the country's future, and the rumors are flying fast and furious. The latest report is that army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi is meeting with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the top Muslim cleric of al-Azhar mosque, and the Coptic pope. That's pretty much a who's who of figures hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.

ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who formerly headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, is being floated as one possible figure to lead a transitional government after President Mohamed Morsy's fall. He has been designated by the political opposition movement as their representative in negotiations with state authorities -- and has long been rumored to be one of the U.S. government's top choices to heal the divisions between pro- and anti-Morsy groups.

In a meeting earlier this year with a visiting scholar, Brotherhood deputy chairman Khairat al-Shater said that U.S. officials had called on Morsy to appoint ElBaradei as prime minister. The current premier, Hesham Qandil, is an Islamist figure widely derided both inside and outside the Brotherhood as ineffective -- the thinking, according to Shater, was that ElBaradei's appointment could repair the rift between the government and opposition, stabilizing the country.

Obviously, that didn't happen. At the time, there were no signs that Morsy was willing to appoint ElBaradei as prime minister, or that ElBaradei was willing to accept the position. In an article for Foreign Policy published in our latest issue, ElBaradei castigated Morsy for overseeing "an erosion of state authority" in Egypt: "The executive branch has no clue how to run Egypt.... They do not know how to diagnose the problem and then provide the solution. They are simply not qualified to govern."

In an interview to prepare the article, I asked ElBaradei about Shater's statement that the United States was pushing for his appointment as prime minister. He acknowledged that Secretary of State John Kerry had raised the possibility with him, but denied that he was interested in the position. "At this stage I think I would be more effective frankly being outside the system and try to focus on the bigger picture," he said.

But he didn't close the door to entering politics down the road. "As I told Morsy last time I met him, I am ready to help you in any way.... That is really my short-term aim right now, just making sure that the country will be on the right track," he said. "The rest is history, as they say, because it's going to take a long time. We need to be on the right track -- and we are not on the right track right now."

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The Brotherhood Isn't Backing Down

CAIRO -- In what may be Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's final day in office, Muslim Brotherhood officials continued to strike a defiant note against their civilian and military opponents.

The Egyptian military's deadline for all political forces to reconcile -- a possibility that seems more remote than ever -- will expire around 5 p.m. in Cairo. After that time, the country's top generals have promised to lay out a political roadmap that reportedly includes plans to suspend the constitution, dissolve the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, and set up an interim council to rule the country. But Egypt's Islamist elite have vowed to defy the ultimatum, even at the risk of bloodshed.

Essam el-Erian, a Brotherhood leader and vice chairman of the movement's political party, said that wise men should convince the army to back down lest it "meet the same fate as the Syrian Baathist army," according to the Egyptian daily al-Ahram.

Morsy himself has also showed no signs of backing down. In a speech last night, he harped on the concept of his legitimacy -- repeating the word a total of 57 times -- which he said was conferred by his democratic election and made it unthinkable for him to step down from power.  "If the price of preserving legitimacy is my blood, I am prepared to pay it," he said.

Other Brotherhood leaders have also made comments seemingly preparing their supporters for violence. Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagy told a pro-Morsy crowd gathered in Cairo's Raba'a el-Adaweyya Square on Monday, "We swear to God, we won't allow any coup against legitimacy, except over our dead bodies."

But even as the Muslim Brotherhood is digging in, the pillars of its support appear to be crumbling all around it. Many state institutions are in open rebellion: The front page of the state newspaper al-Ahram trumpeted that the day would bring Morsy's "dismissal or resignation." Even the Twitter account of the Egyptian Cabinet has fallen out of the president's hands: In a message posted this morning, the account denounced Morsy's speech, saying that it "will lead to civil war."

More importantly, even some of the Brotherhood's Islamist allies are stepping away from what they appear to see as a sinking ship. On Monday, the Salafist Nour Party released a statement urging Morsy to call early presidential elections and establish a technocratic government. The Salafi Dawa, another hardline movement, delivered a similar message.

The Brotherhood's defiance has seemingly provoked an increasingly harsh response from the security forces. Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater's house was fired upon by police officers, and his bodyguards were arrested. There have also been reports that the military slapped a travel ban on top Brotherhood officials.

The stage, then, seems set for a confrontation in just a few short hours. As a post on a popular Facebook page close to the armed forces put it, the military is prepared to defend the country from "terrorists, radicals, and fools."

MAHMUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images