Members of a collective mind?
Following the appointment of the new presidential team, Reem Leila
sees how well-defined are the roles of the new president's advisors
On 2 September, President Mohamed Mursi held meetings with his newly appointed presidential team, which consists of four assistants and 17 consultants. During the meetings, which lasted for four hours, it was decided that the four assistants would help the president make decisions in various fields, according to each assistant's area of expertise.
The president discussed the duties of each assistant separately, asking each to prepare a portfolio of future perspectives.
Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali told the press that the role of the presidential team would not overlap with those of the various ministries and other government bodies. "There will be coordination with all the entities in order to guarantee the welfare of the country and the people," Ali said.
"President Mursi has instructed the authorities concerned to provide his team with the data necessary for their work."
Emad Abdel-Ghafour, assistant to the president for community affairs, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the meeting with Mursi had been fruitful, helping to define the parameters of each assistant's role.
"Regarding community affairs, I will be acting as a mediator between the authorities working in this area and the president. The idea is to look for solutions to problems such as poverty, street children, illiteracy, and unemployment," Abdel-Ghafour said.
Abdel-Ghafour said that there would be regular coordination between the presidential assistants and the president's consultants in order to create productive synergies. "President Mursi did not impose any methodology on us. He gave us complete liberty to perform our mission in the most promising way," Abdel-Ghafour said.
The consultants will not necessarily produce binding policy recommendations. According to writer Sekina Fouad, one of the president's consultants, their task will be more a matter of providing blue-sky thinking to the president on different matters.
"Our opinions are not binding, but they will be taken into consideration. If I feel I am not performing a real role, or my performance is not up to standard, I will immediately quit the team," Fouad said.
Ayman El-Sayad, editor-in-chief of the review Weghat Nazar and one of the 17 consultants, told the press that the Sunday meeting had been for consultation. "The consultants will not have permanent offices at the presidential palace, because, like the assistants, they already have jobs elsewhere. Our work is essentially voluntary," he said.
The consultants' role will not be like those of other government entities. The council of presidential consultants does not have executive powers, and it does not have an official spokesman. "Issues discussed during council meetings will be kept confidential and not disclosed to a larger public," El-Sayad said.
Islamist thinker Selim El-Awwa, a member of the consultant council, did not attend the meeting because, he said, the council's role was not clear. "I do not know what my role will be on this council. I am prepared to wait and see," he said.
El-Sayad praised Mursi's idea of forming a presidential team to help him make decisions and provide insight into the country's problems.
"This is an unprecedented step for a president to take. Former president Hosni Mubarak used to take decisions without taking anyone's opinion into account except those of his intimate companions, thus leading to his inevitable end as well as to the deterioration of the country. This team will aim to guarantee the country's welfare and to prevent presidential autocracy," El-Sayad said.
Pakinam El-Sharqawi, presidential assistant for political affairs, held a press conference after the meeting, where she said that she would be responsible for coordinating with governmental and political bodies and providing strategic and future plans on political issues.
"I will be in direct contact with the country's different political research centres in order to reach collective and balanced solutions to the country's domestic and foreign political problems," El-Sharqawi said. "The whole of the presidential team will be acting as part of a single collective mind."
A strategic plan will be prepared by the four assistants, and this will remain fixed even if there is a change of personnel. "The plan will act as a roadmap to officials, whether they stay in their posts or are replaced by others. This will be a first step towards properly organised work, unlike under the previous individual system," El-Sharqawi said.
The four assistants will be housed in the presidential palace, as they will be in daily contact with the president. "The mechanism of cooperation between us and the consultants will be identified over the coming few days," El-Sharqawi said.
Former MP Mohamed Abu Hamed and founder of the Egyptian Life Party condemned the formation of the presidential team, stating that most members were Islamists.
"Mursi is doing this just to please the Muslim Brotherhood. Most members lack experience, and I am planning to conduct meetings across the country to bring home to people the truth behind this team. Mursi is implementing the Brotherhood's plan to Islamise the country by forming this group," Abu Hamed said.
According to Abu Hamed, the formation of the group does not serve the people's welfare, and it could negatively affect the performance of the country's governmental entities because Islamist individuals will be put in charge of them.