Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

New cabinet

Reflections on the makeup of Egypt’s new cabinet, with some welcome retentions and new additions

Finally, we have seen the birth of a new cabinet, for weeks the subject of speculation and comment. It might not be great, but nor is it as disappointing as some had expected. With regard to our “soft power” ministries, for example, I am personally pleased that the incumbent ministers of culture and of antiquities have been retained. Both officials have proven themselves indisputably worthy of their posts.

The writer and journalist Helmi Al-Namnam has the clear outlook we need at this critical moment in our history when we are grappling with one of the gravest threats ever to our national identity and our variegated civilisational history. A meticulous scholar, he has benefited greatly from the style of investigative journalism with which he made his mark during his years with the press. He has contributed numerous important works to the Arab library on issues that are directly related to the challenges we face today.

During his first period of tenure, he developed a cultural policy for his ministry, as called for in the constitution and in spite of the fact that parliament has yet to pass the requisite laws to implement the constitution. Al-Namnam stated that the aim of his ministry is to realise “cultural justice”, a term that he, himself, coined and that signifies the need to ensure that cultural services reach all citizens “without discrimination due to financial capacities or geographic location”, as the constitution states.

In the period preceding the announcement of the new cabinet line-up, rumours circulated that there would be a new culture minister.

Some went so far as to name the replacement and that name appeared on the front page headlines of some newspapers that did not bother to check their sources, a phenomenon indicative of the deterioration in the standards of professionalism in our press these days. The subject of the rumours was the great artist Ahmed Nawwar, a widely respected individual who was very successful during the time he served as head of the Ministry of Culture’s Sector of Fine Arts. Suddenly Ahmed received a flood of congratulatory messages, some well-intentioned, others not so innocent, and he was forced to explain on his Facebook page that no one had broached him on the matter, although he would not hesitate to serve his country if asked.

It turned out that another person with the same name was being considered for a totally different cabinet post (the Ministry of Agriculture). One of our honourable representatives in parliament heard the name and rushed to call up some journalist friends of his to give them the scoop. This, then, led to the confusion between a candidate not selected for the Agriculture Ministry and a person who had never been a candidate to begin with. The failure of the MP to ascertain his facts combined with journalists’ failure to check their sources caused a muddle that was only clarified when the new cabinet was announced, revealing that Al-Namnam was still in place and that the aforesaid nominee for the Agriculture Ministry had not been appointed.

As for the Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enani impresses me more and more everyday. His passion for history is boundless. It extends beyond Egyptian antiquities, in which field he has demonstrated an amazing ability to get things done in spite of insufficient resources. As enthusiastic as he is about his job, this pales alongside that passion for history which is his prime motivator. It is a little known fact that at a time when others were delighted by the conversion of Department of Antiquities from a branch of the Ministry of Culture into a fully-fledged independent ministry with the full perks of a ministerial portfolio, Al-Enani submitted a comprehensive proposal to the government for the transformation of the ministry into an independent national organisation. For some unknown reason, the government decided to hold on to the ministry even though we now had some 40 ministries while the US, for example, only has 15. The conversion of the antiquities authority to a ministry was a grave mistake committed by the last cabinet of the Mubarak era after having received a nudge in that direction from the presidential seat. Once, I asked General Shafik what his philosophy was behind the conversion. He was unable to offer an explanation.

In addition to retaining the two heads of the successful “soft power” ministries, the new government contains other promising names. Foremost among these are Hisham Al-Sherif and Hala Al-Said. When Al-Sherif explained to me his vision for the Ministry of Local Development, I was pleased to hear him say that it was founded on the belief that intellectual development should be the first priority. This progressive philosophy, which has long been missing in our ministries, should steer the work of other ministries and not just the Ministry of Local Development.

Al-Said’s record of success in Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science speaks for itself. She made it possible for that college to play a role in public life through the various activities that attracted the public to its lecture halls. She also consolidated the link between the faculty and its many graduates who currently hold high positions. Equally if not more importantly she won the support of the college’s student body. She was the first elected dean, at a time, moreover, when students were discontent with everything in the university.

On the negative side regarding the cabinet reshuffle, I was surprised to find that individuals with such superb intellectual and practical qualifications as Gaber Gad Nassar were passed over at a time when we need such skills and expertise. Also, at a time when many other talents are reluctant to embark into the perilous world of public office, Gaber Gad Nassar has demonstrated the required courage and stamina to contend with the challenges and an ability to hold his ground on matters of principle with grit and tenacity. I saw this for myself during some of the battles that took place in the committee responsible for drafting the new constitution. He demonstrated his fortitude extensively at Cairo University which, before he served as the university’s president, was a hotbed of extremist thought and the takfiri groups that have poisoned our lives.

Certainly, the new cabinet has other talented faces that merit attention. Here, however, I only discussed those with whom I am personally acquainted and whose careers I have followed for many years. Finally, I am left with a number of questions that I doubt will receive an answer. One, for example, has to do with Minister of Planning Ashraf Al-Arabi. Although I do not know him personally, I have never seen such unanimity of agreement on the skills and abilities of any minister of planning before him. Does anyone have an acceptable explanation as to why he was discarded from the cabinet?

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