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Egypt warns against attempts to block path back to democracy

Egypt’s new defense minister warned on Tuesday that it would not allow any group to interfere with the interim government’s road map toward the restoration of democracy.

In an audio message televised to the nation on state television, Defense Minister Abdel Fatah el-Sisi said the nation now had a schedule for a constitution and new elections.

Events of the last seven days, however, are sure to overshadow the normally festive start to the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins on Wednesday. 

Thousands of Islamists rallied outside a mosque in northeast Cairo overnight, where they have vowed to remain until toppled President Mohammed Morsi returns to power. 

On Monday, Egypt's interim leader Adly Mansour said that a new constitution would be drawn up and voted on in a referendum in about five months. Presidential and parliamentary elections would then be held in early 2014.

Egypt also named an interim prime minister Tuesday. Hazem el-Beblawi, a liberal economist and former finance minister, was named interim premier, while former U.N. diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, now a liberal party leader, was named deputy president for foreign affairs.

But ElBaradei's National Salvation Front, Egypt's main liberal coalition, rejected the constitutional decree and demanded changes be made. 

The Muslim Brotherhood also dismissed the decree, while the ultra-conservative Nour Party, which initially backed the road map, said it was not satisfied. 

El-Sisi, who led the military overthrow of Morsi, said that the "future of the nation is too important and sacred for maneuvers or hindrance, whatever the justifications."

"All the people together and the armed forces behind them do not want anyone to cross the limits of what is right at this moment or stray from the path of the limits of security and safety, compelled by selfish desire, lawlessness or nervousness, which would expose the nation and its citizens to what we must avoid," he added.

At least 51 people were killed and 435 injured in clashes early Monday near the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, according to the Ministry of Health. Supporters of Morsi had been holding a sit-in near the compound.

The White House said Tuesday that the decision to call for elections early next year was "a positive sign," The Associated Press reported.

President Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said that the White House was "cautiously encouraged" by the announcement of a plan to return to democratically elected government. Carney called for all parties to be included in the electoral process. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia approved $5 billion in aid to Egypt on Tuesday, while the United Arab Emirates offered $3 billion of support.

The Saudi funds comprise a $2 billion central bank deposit, $2 billion in energy products, and $1 billion in cash, the Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf told Reuters.

Some $2 billion of the UAE money would be given as a grant, with $1 billion in the form of a loan.

Egypt has struggled to pay for imports since the 2011 uprising that pushed Hosni Mubarak out of the presidency drove away tourists and foreign investors, two of its main sources of foreign currency, Reuters said. Since then it has run through more than $20 billion in reserves, borrowed billions from abroad and delayed payments to oil companies. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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