Preparing for September
Ahmed Nazif's new cabinet held its first meeting this week amidst increasing criticism of the government's excessive allegiance to the NDP. Gamal Essam El-Din
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif's new government held its first meeting on Monday. Nazif said the meeting focussed devising ways to provide for the needs of limited-income groups.
The new government's agenda, according to Nazif, also included creating a more friendly investment climate, generating more job opportunities, restructuring subsidies, improving public services, and upgrading the state's administrative system. Other priorities, Nazif said, included enhancing the performance of the economy, streamlining health services, revitalising the political climate, conserving natural resources and creating an integrated information society.
According to the new prime minister, his government would be judged on its "achievements", rather than on the basis of half-truths and false promises. A cabinet spokesman, Nazif said, would soon be appointed to address issues raised by the public and the media.
Nazif said President Hosni Mubarak expected the cabinet to devote most of its efforts to improving the lives of poor and limited-income citizens. "President Mubarak expects the new government's achievements to be so tangible that ordinary citizens feel that their lives are really improving day after day."
It was also announced that six cabinet sub-groups were established and charged with the forumlation and implemention of policy strategies in their respective fields. These include groups for economic performance, political and legislative matters, national defence, development, services, and investment and employment, to be headed by, respectively, the ministers of finance (Youssef Ghali), parliamentary affairs (Kamal El-Shazli), defence (Hussein Tantawi), higher education (Amr Salama), housing (Ibrahim Suleiman), and oil (Sameh Fahmi).
Although Nazif said his government would be serving all Egyptians, regardless of their partisan loyalties, opposition figures were quick to cast doubt on his claims. Noaman Gomaa, chairman of the Wafd Party, was the first to pull the trigger. On 15 July, Gomaa charged that Nazif had made a flagrant mistake in receiving the new ministers at the NDP's headquarters. "The new prime minister even went as far as announcing that his government's policies would be forged via close coordination between cabinet ministers and leading NDP members," Gomaa said.
Other opposition figures complained that the NDP's influential Policy Secretariat, led by Gamal Mubarak, the 41- year-old president's son, played a major role in selecting Nazif's government. Al-Wafd editor Abbas El-Tarabili predicted that Nazif's government was primarily aimed at preparing the ground for the NDP's "future generation" to come to power at the end of next year's presidential referendum and parliamentary elections.
According to the leftist Tagammu Party leader Rifaat El- Said, Nazif's government's "power derives from how satisfied the leaders of the NDP's policies committee will be with its performance."
Leftist MP Abul-Ezz El-Hariri told Al-Ahram Weekly that "Nazif is a one- year experimental prime minister, and it is no surprise that he has emphasised his loyalty to the NDP and its Gamal Mubarak-led policies committee."
Seemingly taken aback by the barrage of criticism, Nazif told Al-Ahram that being NDP "was an honour for his government. This is a fact because the NDP is the majority party. It is also the first... to prepare objective studies aimed at upgrading government performance. In modern nations, prime ministers come from majority parties. Egypt is no exception to this democratic tradition and the new government will make no distinction on partisan grounds."
Nazif also admitted that the NDP's policies committee played a role in selecting some ministers. "But isn't it a good thing that the NDP has become fertile ground for creating young leaders capable of delivering and assuming executive posts?"
Most opposition figures begged to differ. Nasserist Party leader Diaaeddin Dawoud said the NDP, rather than being a majority party, was "a gathering of opportunists who usurped power via rigged elections".
The NDP, meanwhile, is gearing up for its second annual conference scheduled for September. On 15 July NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif announced that the conference would feature President Mubarak announcing a new set of political reforms. These, according to El-Sherif, would include ridding the penal code of imprisonment penalties for publication offences, and amending the laws regulating the formation of political parties and the exercise of political rights.
On 17 July, Nazif met with NDP's five leading figures -- El-Sherif, Kamal El-Shazli, Gamal Mubarak, Youssef Wali, and Zakaria Azmi (chief of the presidential staff and chairman of the NDP's Secretariat for Financial and Administrative Affairs). They agreed that a series of meetings be held between Nazif's cabinet ministers and members of Gamal Mubarak's policies committee to set the conference's agenda. The meetings will also review the previous government's record regarding the implementation of last year's conference's recommendations.