Egypt now lives in a political and constitutional vacuum. The present military rulers have dissolved the sole national level representative assembly, the Shura Council, and rescinded the constitution. Both, to be sure, were self-interested creations of the Muslim Brotherhood administration. But nothing has been put in their place.

There is only the military and its choice as president, the constitutional lawyer Adly Mansour. Nothing else remains. But if further tragedy — perhaps, as Russian President Vladimir Putin forecast, a civil war — is to be averted, the vacuum must soon be filled.

Putin may be right. The killing of at least 51 supporters of the Brotherhood in incidents around a barracks of the presidential guard on Sunday raises the stakes, and the temperature. The military’s contempt for the Brotherhood, whose government they had sworn to serve, is now very evident, as is their assumption of a right to dispose of the country’s politics, and to enforce order by fear.

The will-he/won’t-he struggle over the appointment of Mohamed ElBaradei as prime minister illuminates one of the major underlying crises in a country of many overlapping crises. He is a figure acceptable to, indeed a hero of, liberals and secularists. But his long service abroad, largely for the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which he headed for twelve years, inspires suspicion and even hatred among the Islamist parties.

The largest of these, the Salafist Nour party — which won 111 of the 498 parliamentary seats in the 2011 elections — says that if ElBaradei heads the new government, Nour will end any collaboration with the military in its transition. ElBaradei himself has said that Islamist participation is necessary for the transition.