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The delay of the swearing-in of 14 new ministers and two deputies have raised concerns about looming tensions around the new cabinet reshuffle.
The reshuffle took place in a bid to appease thousands who have been holding sit-ins across the country, expressing discontent with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet.
There has been unconfirmed news about persistent disagreements between Sharaf and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) over the reshuffle. Mohamed Hegazy, spokesman for the cabinet, denied on Tuesday a rumor that Sharaf is in the process of resigning.
Meanwhile, both protesters and commentators have expressed frustration at SCAF's control over the executive branch, assuring that a cabinet reshuffle would mean nothing if the authorities of the cabinet are not clearly drawn from the beginning.
In his daily column in the new Al-Tahrir daily, Ibrahim Eissa writes that the main issue is that this cabinet will stay until the next presidential elections, because nothing stipulates that it will be overturned by the elected parliament. This puts it directly under the control of the council, even following the parliamentary elections.
Nasserist writer and journalist Abdallah al-Sennawy accused SCAF of exercising its power on the choice of ministers. “I can assert that SCAF not the prime minister controls the choice of all the key ministries," Sennawy said.
The cabinet changes kept 13 ministers, including Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy, Justice Minister Mohamed al-Guindy, and Social Solidarity and Justice Minister Gouda Abdel Khaleq. This challenges what protesters consider as lingering gaps to the revolution’s fulfillment: the persistent violations committed by the security apparatus, the slow and questionable justice of the toppled regime officials and the lack of social justice.
Perihan Abu Zaid, a 26-year-old protester, said retaining Essawy is “unacceptable."
“I think the reshuffle as a concept is proof that the sit-in is effective, as it pressured SCAF to grant Sharaf powers he didn’t have before. Yet we are still in a revolution, which requires radical changes, not just reforms,” said Abu Zaid.
Purging the Interior Ministry of all the police officers involved in killing protesters was a crucial demand of the sit-in, which was triggered by a court ruling that released on bail policemen accused of shooting protesters.
“Keeping Essawy is not just a weak point in this reshuffle; it will become a cause for embarrassment for the government, especially since he is sympathetic with the police officers, as he justified them killing protesters who attacked police stations,” said Mostafa al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University.
Agreeing with Sayed, Sennawy added: “I am sure that replacing Essawy was not subject for discussion in the first place; there is no way it is Sharaf’s choice to keep Essawy.”
There have been calls by political circles from the protest movement to appoint a civilian to head the Interior Ministry, but it was faced with severe opposition from the police ranks.
“There is complacency from SCAF to affect big changes in the Ministry of Interior. Even changing the minister won’t be enough. There should be a radical restructuring of the ministry with an elected civil minister who is familiar with human rights,” said Ahmed Shoukry, founding member of the newly born Adl Party.
International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abouelnaga, Environment Minister Maged George and Electricity Minister Hassan Younis, the surviving ministers from the toppled President Hosni Mubarak’s last cabinet, are among the 12 ministers who stayed.
Some found reasons related to competence that made those ministers survive.
According to Sayed, Abouelnaga has been doing a notable job in the International Cooperation Ministry, in addition to being an esteemed person among her ministry’s employees. Sayed added that she was not an active member in the former ruling National Democratic Party, like other ministers, as she had no choice but to enter the party under pressure from former President Hosni Mubarak.
Younis, the electricity minister, was successful in handling the ministry and he “foiled” attempts by businessmen who were friends of Mubarak’s son, Gamal to take over the nuclear plant project, said Sayed.
In the meantime, some believe there is new revolutionary blood in the cabinet reshuffle.
Political party leaders praised the choice of Hazem al-Beblawy as deputy prime minister and new minister of finance. Beblawy, 74, is a prominent economist who worked as an adviser for the Arab Monetary Fund in Abu Dhabi since 2001. He was the former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia for five years until 2000 and also worked as the chairman and CEO of the Export Development Bank of Egypt from 1983 until 1995.
Ali al-Selmy, the vice president of the Wafd Party, was also nominated for deputy prime minister. Although he was not far from Mubarak's regime, he took the posts of minister of state for administrative development from 1977 until 1978, and the minister of state for monitoring and follow-up from 1978 until 1979, he was also not far from the ranks of the opposition as he was critical of the system of late president Anwar Sadat, for whom he served as a minister.
“The two deputy prime ministers are both good politicians and technocrats who have views that go beyond their narrow specializations. They have good reputations and are known for their independent-mindedness, unlike [Former Finance Minister Samir] Radwan, who was a favorite to Mubarak, who had him appointed as the head of the economic affairs committee of the parliament,” said Sayed.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Amr Helmy and Communication and Information Technology Minister Hazem Abdel Azim are appointed from the protesters’ ranks, as they have played an active role in the revolution, said Sayed. He said they were also qualified.
Still, experts doubt the cabinet's success without a clear policy transformation, though they praise the qualifications of some of the new ministers.
“I don’t see a big difference between before and after the reshuffle, because the issue is not just about changing ministers. The problem is with the government’s policies, which are controlled by the SCAF,” said Abdel Halim Kandil, editor-in-chief of Sawt al-Omma newspaper.
The leader in the leftist Tagammu Party, Hussein Abdel Razek, also underplayed the reshuffle, deeming it “illogical” without a prior change in policy.
“We need an official and clear statement from the government on what the policy direction is regarding the three main transition challenges: security, democratization and social justice,” said Abdel Razek.
Samer Suleiman, a political science professor at The American University in Cairo and founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, says that without clear authorities for the new cabinet, even competent ministers like Beblawy could burn out.
“Beblawy has a strategic vision and he is definitely an added value, but working in steering a non-elected government that doesn’t have authorities and will last for only three or four months means that we will not benefit from his knowledge in a meaningful way.”
“I am worried that we are exhausting all our competent people and that we won’t find someone to appoint when it comes to building Egypt,” he added.
Egypt has gone through three cabinet reshuffles since the beginning of the revolution. One was made by Mubarak before he resigned on 11 February, and the other two came under Sharaf.