Egypt’s Morsi Keeps Mubarak's Cronies in New Cabinet
By Shahira Amin
None of the revolutionary forces that led the mass uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in January of 2011 are represented in the country’s new cabinet.
Moreover, the first government under the newly-elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi consists of six holdovers from the previous one. A mix of technocrats, bureaucrats and Islamists, the new government faces harsh criticism for promoting mid-level officials from the old regime. Meanwhile, liberal parties say they will boycott a government formed under a Muslim Brotherhood president.
The formation of the new government comes after repeated delays and public criticism of Morsi's choice of prime minister. Hisham Qandil, who served as the water and irrigation minister in the two successive post-revolutionary governments, has been described as a "lackluster prime minister" who will have trouble overcoming the serious challenges facing the country, including a flagging economy and internal divisions.
The biggest surprise in the new cabinet has been the replacement of the former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim with one of his deputies: Major General Ahmed Jamal El Din was a former assistant interior minister for security. Security has been a major concern for Egyptians since the mass uprising that toppled Mubarak: the police retreated after the uprising, leading to a security vacuum and a marked rise in crime rates. Morsi has promised to restore order and build up trust between citizens and the police (associated with torture and corruption for decades of Mubarak’s rule), implementing sweeping personnel changes within the Interior Ministry, but security officers say the reshuffle has had little effect.
Four other new ministers are Islamists; three of them hail from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP): Mostafa Mosaad, who was responsible for educational policies during Morsi's election campaign, became the minister of higher education; Tarek Wafik, the head of the FJP's Housing Committee, is the new minister of housing, and Osama Yassin, a former member of the FJP Executive Office, is the new minister of youth.
Salah Abdul Makqsud, a journalist and another member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has replaced former Army General Ahmed Anis as the new information minister. While welcoming what they hope will be “an end to army control over the media," many journalists fear that the new Islamist minister will use the media as a propaganda tool to promote an Islamist agenda.
Appeals Court Judge Ahmed Mekky, a prominent judge who supported president Morsi's controversial decision to reinstate the dissolved Islamist-dominated Parliament, became the new Justice Minister. Mekky is renowned for his outspoken criticism of vote rigging under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak and has promised to "promote social justice and independence of the judiciary."
The ministers who have kept their posts are Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, Finance Minister Mumtaz al Saeed, Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim and the only two female cabinet ministers: Minister of Insurance and Social Affairs Nagwa Khalil and Minister of Scientific Research Nadia Zakhary. Zakhary is also the sole Coptic Christian in the new cabinet, in line with a Mubarak-era tradition of appointing a Coptic Minister to appease Egypt's minority Christian residents.
Likewise, former military ruler Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has retained his post as defense minister, despite reports of discussions held in the past week between president Morsi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ruled the country in the transitional period, regarding the appointment of a new defense minister.
Much to the relief of many liberals, ultra-conservative Salafists have no representation in the new government, after their requests for certain portfolios were turned down by the new prime minister. Recent media reports that Salafist Sheikh Mohamed Youssri Ibrahim – a staunch advocate of Sharia Law – had been offered the Religious Endowments portfolio stirred a great deal of controversy: secularists and religious figures alike described his possible appointment as "a threat to moderate Islam." Thus many welcomed the appointment of the President of Al Azhar University Osama El Abd as Minister of Endowments instead.
A number of experienced politicians have rejected offers to join the new government, while several ministers from the outgoing government (like Minister of Supplies Gouda Abdel Khalek and Minister of Tourism Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour) have refused to collaborate with it, citing differences in vision.
Observers say deeply-ingrained fears of Islamist domination are behind technocrats’ and seasoned politicians’ reluctance to rally behind the new Islamist president. "So intense are the secularists' fears of the Islamists – long portrayed in Mubarak's media as the bogeyman – that they cheer any limitation on the powers of the president and the Muslim Brotherhood," said Doctor Mona Makram Obeid, a former Member of Parliament.
The new cabinet was sworn in on Thursday, but the public barely expects this government to be the force for change that will get the country back on its feet.
Shahira Amin is an Egyptian journalist, the former deputy head of Egyptian state-owned Nile TV and one of its senior anchors.
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