Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Reshuffle the cards

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail is scheduled to deliver the government’s policy statement on Sunday. But which government, asks Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A cabinet reshuffle was expected within hours of Al-Ahram Weekly going to press.After meeting with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on Monday Prime Minister Sherif Ismail told reporters that changes to the cabinet had yet to be finalised. Other sources said a new cabinet would be ready to be announced by Thursday at the latest.

On the same day – Monday –  Ismail also met with Menoufiya MPs. Emerging from the meeting, MP Osama Sharshar said the cabinet reshuffle would be finalised on Wednesday or Thursday.

“Prime Minister Sherif Ismail stressed that his meeting with President Al-Sisi was aimed at wrapping up the cabinet reshuffle which would be completed within the next 24 hours,” said Sharshar. He added that Ismail had disclosed “the reshuffle will include between eight and ten ministers”.

Informed sources say cabinet changes were delayed when some of the names put forward by Ismail were rejected by the president. Delays were also caused by possible ministerial candidates refusing portfolios after being sounded out by the prime minister.

“Sherif Ismail contacted 20 public figures over two days. All of them refused to be part of any new government,” said one source.

The 33 member cabinet of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was appointed in September. According to Tuesday’s Al-Ahram the ministers of tourism, education, investment, finance, antiquities, irrigation, transport, health, and the environment will be changed.

“Mahmoud Al-Matini, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Ain Shams University, is expected to be the new minister of health. Alaa Fahmy, a former transport minister under Hosni Mubarak, is expected to return to government in the same post,” said Al-Ahram. The report also said “governor of Giza Kamal Al-Dali is expected to be named as head of a sovereign ministry”, leading to speculation that the minister of interior will be replaced.

Reports have also appeared in the press quoting Adel-Shorbagi, a member of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), saying that he has been approached by Ismail to take charge of the Justice Ministry following last week’s sacking of Justice Minister Ahmed Al-Zind. Al-Zind was dismissed after making a comment deemed defamatory to the Prophet Mohamed.

Al-Ahram also speculated that there will be fewer seats around the cabinet table. “It is likely that the ministries of finance and planning will be merged into a single portfolio, as will the two ministries of tourism and antiquities,” said the paper.

Other sources suggest that the losses incurred by the merging of ministries will be offset by the resurrection of an information ministry and by the promotion of administrative development to a cabinet level post. Rumours are circulating that Yasser Rizk, chairman of the board of Al-Akhbar newspaper, is about to be appointed minister of information.

“The absence of an information ministry over the last two years has left the state vulnerable to hostile media attacks. There has been no coherent strategy to defend the war against terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood,” one source told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Al-Sisi’s meeting with Ismail was followed by a three-hour meeting with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Social Solidarity, the chief of General Intelligence, the president’s national security advisor and the chairman of the Administrative Control Authority.

On Tuesday Al-Sisi held a meeting with the ministers of defence and the interior, Chief of Military Staff Mahmoud Hegazi and senior military and police officials. Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said the meeting was to review developments in North Sinai and the strategy employed by security forces in countering terrorist attacks.

The meeting was convened in the wake of Saturday’s terrorist attack in North Sinai which left 18 policemen dead.

“The growing death toll among police and other security forces in North Sinai shows not only that terrorists remain active in the peninsula but that coordination between the army and police is lacking,” MP Anwar Al-Sadat said in a statement issued this week.

The results of the cabinet reshuffle will be announced ahead of Prime Ismail’s delivery of his government’s first policy statement before the House of Representatives.

On Monday Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told the press that Ismail would outline his government’s programme before MPs on 27 March, as scheduled.
“Under Article 146 of the Constitution the policy statement must be debated by parliament within 30 days, after which it will be up to the house whether or not to vote for or withhold confidence,”said Al-Agati.

Article 147 of the Constitution stipulates that cabinet reshuffles can only be ordered by the president after consulting with the prime minister and obtaining the approval of two thirds of MPs. It is essential, therefore, that any cabinet changes are made ahead of Ismail presenting his government’s policy statement.

The House of Representatives, says Al-Agati, may have to form a committee to review the government’s policy statement and prepare a report, recommending whether MPs should grant the new cabinet confidence. “But if parliament’s internal bylaws are ratified by the State Council this week, parliament’s 25 committees will then take charge of reviewing the statement.”

BUT IS THIS LIKELY? Al-Agati thinks the State Council’s revision of parliamentary bylaws will be completed within days.  “They might finish by the end of this week or early next week. If so, it will be possible for the 25 committees to be formed in time and entrusted with reviewing the statement.”

Ismail has already held meetings with MPs from different governorates in the past few days in an attempt to convince them to vote in favour of his policy statement.

MP Anwar Al-Sadat told Al-Ahram Weekly that “in their meetings with Ismail MPs argued the government’s policy statement must explain, in clear-cut terms, the government’s strategy to combat terrorism, fight corruption and improve public services”.

“Many MPs also warned that any plans to phase out subsidies on electricity and water or raise prices of basic goods could spark wide-scale street protests and could lead MPs to withdraw confidence from Ismail.”

Independent MP Abdel-Moneim Al-Oleimi told the Weekly that Ismail’s 19 March meeting with Nile-Delta governorate MPs had shocked many of those who attended.

“Not only did Ismail paint a bleak picture of the Egyptian economy, he also had the guts to announce that the government has no money to spend on new projects or to improve public services,” said Al-Oleimi.

“Ismail said MPs should rally behind the government because we are all in the same boat and we must work together to reduce the budget deficit and tackle the trade balance in order to weather the current economic crisis.”

Menoufiya governorate MP Ahmed Rifaat complained that “Ismail is an apolitical figure.”

“He is a technocrat who only knows the language of figures,” said Rifaat.

Rifaat confirmed that many MPs attending the meeting were shocked by what they heard. “When they asked Ismail how his government planned to improve public services all he said was that the country’s financial resources are limited and MPs should help the government by proposing new sources of revenue.”

Al-Ahram political analyst and independent MP Emad Gad told reporters that “President Al-Sisi’s biggest mistake in his two years in office was to choose Sherif Ismail as prime minister.”

“If President Al-Sisi is keen to correct this mistake he should opt for a complete change of government and appoint a prime minister with extensive political experience and a proven track record.”

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