Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 September - 5 October 2005
Issue No. 762
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Reshuffle postponed

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and his cabinet will be staying put until after the November parliamentary elections, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

No one was expecting President Hosni Mubarak -- who took the oath of office at the beginning of his fifth six- year term on Tuesday -- to bid Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif's cabinet good- bye. "Appointing a new government ahead of parliamentary elections," said Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst with Al-Ahram's Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, would not have been a politically-astute move. The three- stage parliamentary poll begins on 8 November and will draw to a close by the first week of December.

The regime's logic, Rabie said, was that it was better for an old government to bear the brunt of critical opposition by politicians running for parliament, than a new and untested one. The key element, meanwhile, governing the debate over when a new cabinet might be announced, and who it would consist of, hinges on that cabinet's responsibility for implementing the political and economic reform agenda that was the focus of President Mubarak's campaign to become Egypt's first elected president.

In that respect, while Nazif's government includes a few dynamic and liberal-oriented ministers, it is also packed with mediocre members of the old guard, said Zagazig University political economy professor Samir Tobar. "A government with this mix can never be entrusted with implementing Mubarak's presidential campaign's reform pledges," he stated.

Nazif's government may have managed some of the economic reforms required of it, but its overall performance has fallen short, Tobar said. According to a recent cabinet report, growth rates have risen from 4.3 to 5.2 per cent, inflation has gone down from 16 to 4.7 per cent, and foreign exchange reserves have increased from $14 to more than $20 billion, while LE5.6 billion in privatisation proceeds have been generated and customs and tax rates have been reduced by 50 per cent. For analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid, though, these impressive numbers don't quite cut it when gauged against "Mubarak's pledge to generate 4.5 million jobs, and boost the salaries of around five million government and public sector employees by 100 per cent." Tobar agrees that on unemployment, Nazif's government has failed.

Analysts have divided the cabinet into groups of varying dynamism. The first are members of the National Democratic Party's (NDP) influential Policy Secretariat, whose chairman is President Mubarak's 42-year-old son Gamal. They include Rashid Mohamed Rashid (Industry and External Trade), Mahmoud Mohieddin (Investment) and Youssef Boutros Ghali (Finance), as well as Tarek Kamel (Communications and Information Technology), Essam Sharaf (Transport), Ahmed Darwish (Administrative Development), Ahmed El-Maghrabi (Tourism), Sameh Fahmi (Oil) and Fayza Abul-Naga (International Cooperation). This group, however, is strongly disliked by leftists who believe the Policy Secretariat is implementing an American agenda aimed at privatising the country's most precious economic assets.

While the second group of ministers -- including Hassan Khedr (Supply and Internal Trade), Ahmed El-Leithy (Agriculture), Ahmed Abul-Gheit (Foreign Affairs), Hassan Younes (Electricity), Hamdi Zaqzouq (Religious Endowments), and Maged George (Environment) -- are not considered as dynamic as the first, analysts like Tobar think a more forceful crew will probably replace them.

Other critics, like independent MP Adel Eid, think at least half of Nazif's government needs to be shown the door. This group primarily includes such old guard ministers as Kamal El-Shazli and Moufid Shehab (Parliamentary Affairs), Mamdouh El-Beltagui (Youth), Ahmed El-Amawi (Manpower), Mahmoud Abul-Leil (Justice), Farouk Hosni (Culture), and Habib El-Adli (Interior). Because of how long some of them have been in office, Eid said, they have become a liability rather than an asset for the regime. Other ministers --- like Ibrahim Soliman (Housing) -- have been mired in accusations of corruption, and should be dropped as well, Eid said.

Many of the older members of the government, Tobar said, have not been able to understand the changing dynamics of a post-Article 76 world. "People can no longer tolerate ministers who do their best to delay the country's democratisation process, or stand in the way of greater freedom and respect for human rights."

In Eid's view, Nazif himself represents a purely technocratic mentality out of touch with considerations of political reform. "Like many before him, Nazif approached his job as a technocrat entrusted with finding solutions to the country's economic problems," Eid said. Even in the few cases he was forced to comment on political events, the prime minister seemed befuddled, as when he once alleged that the public was not mature enough to benefit from Western-style democratisation.

For the next three months, according to Tobar, Nazif's job will be confined to heading a "caretaker government", charged simply with maintaining stability, organising parliamentary elections, and laying down the groundwork for a new government by continuing to push forward with economic reforms.

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