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Residents of Sansaft village in Monufiya detained their governor for an hour a fortnight ago while he was visiting a public hospital treating many of the 100 people who had become ill after drinking contaminated water. The residents even attempted to force their governor to drink the contaminated water until security intervened and released him.
At a time when few tolerate government inaction quietly, the incident exemplifies just one of an array of challenges faced at the local governance level. A 4 June report by a laboratory affiliated with the Monufiya Health Affairs Department shows that governorate officials were aware the local drinking water was unfit for human consumption because of the unsafe amounts of bacteria and fungi it contained.
Two days after the incident, the presidency issued a brief statement saying the country’s infrastructure needed reform because similar problems had occurred in other governorates. A Cabinet source also told Al-Masry Al-Youm that a gubernatorial reshuffle, in which 20 governors would be removed, was imminent.
This would be the first gubernatorial reshuffle under President Mohamed Morsy, who will either follow the classic Egyptian tradition of appointing retired military and police generals, or heed calls for ending what politicians term the “militarization of the state” by giving an opportunity to civilian figures.
But concern about the militarization of the state becoming the “Brotherhood-ization” of the state continues to loom. The Muslim Brotherhood says that, as the strongest political faction, it should get a reasonable share of the new appointments, particularly because it has members who are qualified for them.
In April last year, the governors were changed for the first time after the 25 January revolution. The shuffle, approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, removed 18 out of 27 governors. Sharaf changed the governors once again in August, replacing 11 out of 27 governors and moving one governor to a different governorate. Five new police and security officials were also appointed.
Press reports last week said the Brotherhood Guidance Bureau proposed a list of 50 nominees for Morsy’s consideration for governors’ positions. Sources close to Morsy told Al-Masry Al-Youm that he would appoint eight new governors from the group’s Freedom and Justice Party and five from the Salafi Nour Party.
Mahmoud Hussein, secretary general of the Brotherhood and a member of its Guidance Bureau, dismissed claims by some news outlets that the bureau made certain nominations for governors, though he still emphasized that the Brotherhood had the right to a considerable share of the appointments.
“The president and the prime minister are responsible for choosing governors and the Guidance Bureau has nothing to do with that. But we are a political faction that has the right to be represented in different locations,” Hussein told Egypt Independent.
Even though Guidance Bureau members deny claims that they are participating in the choice of the new governors, Helmy al-Gazzar, a former parliamentarian and an FJP leader, says the party has proposed a number of former MPs for some governorates.
Press leaks have revealed that Gamal Heshmat, a Brotherhood leader and Shura Council member, was nominated for Beheira Governorate and Hassan al-Brince, FJP leader and former deputy head of the now-dissolved People’s Assembly Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, was nominated for Alexandria.
Azzazy Ali Azzazy — a former Sharqiya governor who resigned from his position in June after Morsy’s election to reject what he called the “Brotherhood project” — says sources close to the Brotherhood told him Islamists would likely control at least 60 percent of the local government system.
Azzazy, a Nasserist, told Egypt Independent that choices of governors would be made on the basis of loyalty to the Brotherhood. “The Brotherhood has a complete plan for hegemonizing executive operations,” he said.
Egypt has 27 governorates, 199 city councils and 4,496 local councils. Local government has two branches. The first is the appointed local council, which consists of the governors selected by the president and the prime minister. The governors then choose the heads of cities, districts and villages, in coordination with the prime minister.
The Interior Ministry chooses the heads of villages if the appointed council does not know enough about the social conditions of the village in question. Ministries also appoint representatives to manage the affairs of governorate departments, such as those for education, health and security.
The second branch is the elected local councils, whose members are chosen by governorate residents to monitor the performance of the first branch.
An administrative court disbanded the popular councils in June last year, after the breakout of the 25 January revolution. Activists had called for the councils’ dissolution, saying their elections were systematically rigged to allow the now-disbanded National Democratic Party to dominate them.
Observers have been criticizing the structure of local governance because the decision-making process is centralized, with power chiefly vested in executive bodies. There is only a nominal implementation of democracy in the form of local councils, which do not have the power to withdraw confidence in the appointed councils or monitor their expenditures — helping form complicated webs of corruption, bribery and conflicting interests.
According to a study prepared by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 50 to 80 percent of all governors appointed under former President Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s had military backgrounds, while the remaining 20 percent came from the police or other internal security bodies, such as the now-dissolved state security apparatus.
The same study says former military regional leaders from the Army were appointed as governors of Cairo, Suez, South Sinai and North Sinai. All of these are critical areas, being the capital city, the location of the Suez Canal, and at the borders with Israel and Gaza, respectively.
Others from the Air Force, the Coast Guard and the Navy were appointed as governors of Aswan, the Red Sea and the New Valley — border governorates that require certain security arrangements that military officers presumably have better knowledge of.
Gazzar, the former MP, contends that border governorates will continue to have governors with a military background due to the “critical conditions at the borders.”
Hussein, the Brotherhood secretary general, predicts that civilian figures will likely be picked for Upper Egyptian governorates at the expense of generals affiliated with the state security apparatus, who were appointed to these posts in the past to preserve order and address pressing sectarian issues.
Appointments aside, Azzazy and others have expressed concern that the Brothers are engineering a legal infrastructure for their total control of local government.
Law 43/1979, known as the Local Governance Law, is responsible for the centralization of the local governance process, as it does not give the elected local councils the powers to monitor their counterpart executive bodies. It also does not give governors full control over service departments.
Experts and Brotherhood leaders say this law should be kept as it is for the time being.
The Local Development Ministry, which assesses governors’ performances, had prepared a draft law that would eliminate the centralization of decision making in governorates and give local councils — expected to be chosen in elections after the revolution — extensive monitoring powers.
Meanwhile, while the People’s Assembly was still in session, the Brotherhood proposed a new law for local governance that would allow the heads of districts and villages to be elected. Under the proposed law, however, the president would still choose governors.
Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, political science professor at Cairo University, says the same idea is being discussed by members of the constitution-writing assembly. “The Brotherhood has popular leaders at the grassroots level who will be able to win those positions if that law is issued,” he said.
With a track record of victories in electoral politics, the election of heads of districts and villages is deemed an easy recipe for Brotherhood control, as they have established grassroots connections — particularly in the Delta and Upper Egypt.
Azzazy agrees with Sayed, adding that Islamists — and the Brotherhood in particular — plan to contest all the local council seats in the elections, which are expected after the approval of a new constitution. The constitution is expected to be completed by October.
But Hussein expresses support for the Brotherhood’s plan.
“The new constitution will determine what local governance will be like. In all cases, the president should exercise his full powers and pick his governors,” he says.
For analysts, it is normal for a party such as the Brothers to retain a grip over local governance, as part of their executive control.
Sayed says the appointments would at least not be chosen from among the Brotherhood’s opponents, and adds that FJP members would likely seize a good percentage of the anticipated appointments.
“A governor represents the head of the executive authority, or the president, and so it is quite hard to have appointees who would oppose the president,” he says.
This article originally appeared in Egypt Independent's print edition.