Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Surprise reshuffle

Though limited in scope, last week’s cabinet reshuffle was significant in security and cultural terms, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi took Egyptians by surprise on 5 March when he announced a cabinet reshuffle, shifting the powerful interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, just one week before an international conference on economic development in Egypt.

The reshuffle came as a surprise, with ministers about to be axed still doing their work when their replacements were taking their oaths of office.

Although the reshuffle was limited in scope, including only six cabinet ministers out of a total of 34, it was nevertheless highly significant because it replaced the two key members of cabinet, the ministers of interior and culture.

The reshuffle also introduced two new portfolios — a minister of state for population and another for technical education. This brings the total number of cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s nine-month-old government to 36.

Former interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim was appointed to the honorary post of security advisor to the prime minister and replaced by Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar. Abdel-Ghaffar had served as director of the Interior Ministry’s National Security Apparatus. He was responsible for state efforts to infiltrate militant Islamist groups and the fight against religious extremism.

The removal of Ibrahim was welcomed by many political groups, who had criticised him for using heavy-handed policies against both Islamist and secular political activists.

The tide against Ibrahim reached its peak last January when left-wing activist Shaimaa Al-Sabagh was killed during a peaceful demonstration in Cairo marking the fourth anniversary of the 2011 Revolution.

Secular revolutionary forces responded by asking President Al-Sisi to dismiss Ibrahim as a condition for taking part in the parliamentary elections scheduled for the second half of this year.

Ibrahim’s removal also comes at a time when Egypt has been facing a surge in terrorist attacks. Hardly a day now passes without explosions taking place on the streets of Egyptian cities.

Mehleb praised the performance of the former ministers and said the objective of the ministerial shake-up is to “inject new blood” into the government. He said the moves will not affect the high-profile economic conference due to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh this week.

Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst with Al-Ahram, told the Weekly that, like most Egyptians, he was surprised by the reshuffle.

“We thought a cabinet reshuffle would come only after a new parliament was elected, but it has now appeared to be necessary after the parliamentary elections were delayed to the second half of this year and new security challenges emerged,” Rabie commented.

He said he believes the removal of Ibrahim aims to strike a chord with revolutionary forces that repeatedly complained of his repressive measures and heavy-handed policies.

Equally surprising was the removal of Gaber Asfour as minister of culture. Asfour, 71, was appointed minister last July, just nine months ago. He is a well-regarded literary critic and historian who has long been a vociferous critic of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Sunni Islam institution of Al-Azhar.

He was replaced by Abdel-Wahed Al-Nabawy, head of Egypt’s National Library and Archives since 2010. Al-Nabawy, a professor of history at Al-Azhar University, was dismissed from his position when former president Mohamed Morsi was in office, but returned when Morsi was removed in July 2013.

While secularists were shocked by the removal of Asfour, Islamists, particularly hardline Salafists, hailed it as “a corrective move.” According to Hamdi Rizk, a journalist and historian, “The removal of Asfour clearly came as a result of pressure from Al-Azhar clerics who claimed that he was an extremist secularist.”

When he took office last July, Asfour said his main objective was to “fight radical Islamist discourse and spread enlightenment.”

Asfour also criticised several high-profile Al-Azhar clerics, accusing them of espousing the radical ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. “At a time when President Al-Sisi has called for a revolution against radical religious discourse, it is surprising to see the removal of Asfour, who strongly believed in this revolution,” said Rizk.

The reshuffle also included a number of other portfolios in tourism, communication, agriculture and education.

Khaled Ramy, a former tour guide, was appointed minister of tourism to replace Hisham Zazou. Khaled Ali Negm, former head of the Postal Authority, replaced Atef Helmi as minister of communications.

Moheb Al-Rafeey, former executive chairman of the Adult Education Authority, was appointed minister of education to replace Mahmoud Abul-Nasr. Salaheldin Mahmoud, former head of the Agricultural Research Stations Authority, was appointed minister of agriculture to replace Adel Al-Beltagy.

Two new ministries of technical education and teaching and population were also created. Mohamed Youssef, former deputy to the minister of education, was appointed to take charge of the Technical Education Ministry. Hala Youssef, a professor of public health at Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine, was appointed minister of population.

Commenting on the appointments, Rabie said that most of those selected are relatively young and are not well-known figures.

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