No radical changes seen in Egypt’s new Cabinet

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 2, 2012 

— Egypt’s new prime minister announced appointments of government ministers Thursday that left key Cabinet posts in the hands of officials who’d also served in the government of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The appointments signaled that President Mohammed Morsi, a former top official of the Muslim Brotherhood, will, at least for the time being, preside over a government characterized by continuity rather than revolutionary change. It remained unclear whether the selection of the Cabinet was Morsi’s choice or whether the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military council he shares power with, refused to give up key posts.

“The balance of power is still with SCAF,” said Omar Ashour, a professor at Britain’s University of Exeter who specializes in Islamist movements. The military council has ruled Egypt since Mubarak resigned 18 months ago.

But Ashour said the decision to name Muslim Brotherhood members to several Cabinet posts indicated that the Brotherhood is “making advances.”

Among those was the Information Ministry, now led by Muslim Brotherhood member Saleh Abd al Maqsoud, a former head of the Journalists Union who served as a Morsi spokesman during the presidential campaign.

Members of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party also were appointed to lead the Ministries of Housing, Youth and Education.

Ashour said Morsi also had an ally in the new minister of justice, Ahmed Mekki, an independent jurist and appellate court vice president. Mekki has a reputation as an outspoken judge who was known for voting against the Mubarak regime’s positions in a judicial system ripe with corruption. Since retiring recently, he’s appeared frequently on Egyptian talk shows.

For the United States and Israel, that key national security posts remained in familiar hands could calm fears of a major, immediate change in Egyptian-Israeli relations, which the military here has sought to protect.

“There is no doubt that SCAF had a role in forming the new Cabinet,” said Mohammed Habib, a former top-ranking Muslim Brotherhood official who defected last year.

Egypt’s economic ministries remained with technocrats from the former regime, raising questions about how much the country can tackle its toughest economic issues if those who contributed to its financial collapse remain in office.

Mumtaz al Saeed, a 40-year veteran of the Finance Ministry, will remain its minister, a job he earned less than a year ago. Egypt is seeking a $3.2 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund, a key test of Saeed’s tenure as minister.

Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, the chairman of the military council, remains the defense minister, his 21st year in the post.

Hesham Kandil, the prime minister who assembled the ministers on Morsi’s behalf, stressed that he sought “efficiency” in his new Cabinet. Kandil said he’d interviewed more than 80 candidates for Egypt’s 35 ministries.

Kandil, a little-known technocrat who returned to Egypt after Mubarak’s resignation and served as water and irrigation minister before being named prime minister last month, made no apologies for keeping members of the previous government.

“Do we begin from ground zero? Of course not,” Kandil said at a news conference. “We are going to continue what was built by previous Cabinets.”

According to state media, Ahmed Gamel al Din, the onetime deputy minister of interior, now will lead the ministry.

In all, seven ministers are from the former interim government; eight are Islamists, including the four Brotherhood members, and the rest are technocrats or holdovers from the Mubarak regime. The Salafist Nour Party reportedly rejected any role in the Cabinet, angry that its four proposed candidates were rejected and that it was offered only the Environmental Ministry.

Kandil said he’d meet with his economic and security team Saturday, calling those issues the most important problems Egypt must tackle.

The urgency was all too apparent. Minutes after Kandil announced his Cabinet, fighting and gunfire broke out in two downtown business towers after workers had gathered there, angry over a cut in pay. As cars burned and hundreds gathered, there were no police on the scene.

Special correspondent Hassan el Naggar contributed to this report.

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