Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 February - 2 March 2011
Issue No. 1036
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Revolving doors

The Armed Forces have approved a cabinet reshuffle. It was the kind of thing that might have enthralled the public before 25 January, writes Shaden Shehab

photo: AP Click to view caption
photo: AP

A new cabinet is expected soon, ran 19 January's headlines. And between then and Tuesday, when the new cabinet was unveiled, speculation was the name of the game.

The delay, it was reported, was due to the refusal of would-be new ministers to be appointed, something unheard of before the revolution. The job, after all, is hardly secure, even less so after members of the Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) announced on television on Monday that the government of Ahmed Shafik would not be in power when elections are held. And they're supposed to be just six months away.

Prime Minister Shafik, appointed by ousted president Hosni Mubarak, remained in his post. Nor were there changes in the key portfolios of defence, interior, foreign, finance and justice. However, 10 ministers were replaced, the post of deputy prime minister created, and the Ministry of Information abolished. For the first time in decades the cabinet contains representatives of the officially licensed opposition.

Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, head of the HCAF now ruling the nation, remains as minister of defence.

Former assistant minister of the interior Mahmoud Wagdi, who replaced his widely hated boss Habib El-Adli on 29 January, keeps his job. Other survivors from the 29 January reshuffle, made before Mubarak resigned, include Samir Radwan as finance minister, Ahmed Abul-Gheit as foreign minister, and Mamdouh Marei as minister of justice. The latter has been heavily criticised by members of the judiciary for systematically compromising their independence.

A massive protest has been called for Friday to pressure the HCAF into removing old guard Mubarak loyalists, including Shafik, from the interim government. Shafik changed his office on Tuesday from the cabinet offices in downtown Cairo to the Ministry of Civil Aviation offices in anticipation of a demonstration on the same day that failed to materialise.

Representatives of the protesters who met with the HCAF had demanded Shafik be removed and the interim government include some opposition figures. Even though only half of their demands have been met so far it remains a novel experience for the Egyptian public to have its opinion taken into account.

Shafik hardly endeared himself to protesters when, before Mubarak's resignation, he said the demonstrators were free to protest but should go home so people could get on with their lives. He even suggested that the government could "distribute candy" to them.

Shafik, who was appointed by Mubarak days before the president's downfall, should remain in office, insist the HCAF, because he is a competent official. What the protesters find hard to stomach is the retention of a Mubarak loyalist, a man who before the president resigned refused to negotiate any formula for the president to hand over power to the vice president.

"Mubarak will complete his presidential term during which we will be working on modifications and reform," Shafik insisted. "If he stands down it will create a legal vacuum and suspend the reform process."

Yehia El-Gamal, a member of the Democratic Front Party and professor of constitutional law, was named as deputy prime minister. He is a leading member of the National Association for Change, the opposition coalition founded by Mohamed El-Baradei.

Of the 10 new ministers two come from the opposition. Secretary-general of the Wafd Party Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour becomes minister of tourism, filling a position that has been vacant since Zuheir Garana was detained on corruption charges. Tagammu Party member, the economist Gouda Abdel-Khaleq, becomes minister of social solidarity, with social justice now appended to his portfolio. He replaces Ali Meselhi.

Amr Ezzat Salama is the new minister of scientific research and Ahmed Gamaleddin minister of education and higher education. Both served in cabinet from July until 30 December 2004 , when Gamaleddin was reportedly dismissed because he was related to some members of the Muslim Brotherhood members and Salama paid the price for not being in former prime minister Ahmed Nazif's good books.

Mohamed Abdel-Moneim El-Sawy, who runs a popular cultural centre in Cairo, became the minister of culture, replacing old timer Farouk Hosni.

Maged Othman, chairman of the Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre affiliated to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, replaces Tarek Kamel while Mahmoud Latif, chairman of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS), takes over as minister of petroleum and mineral resources from Sameh Fahmi.

Head of Cairo University Hospitals Ashraf Hatem is now health minister, replacing Sameh Farid who was appointed on 29 January.

Samir El-Sayad, chairman of PACHIN, a paint company, is now minister of trade and industry and Ismail Ibrahim Fahmi minister of manpower and immigration.

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