The Muslim Brotherhood emerged as the biggest winner from this week’s cabinet reshuffle, with at least five members of the group or those allied with it joining the government in the reshuffle, raising its share of cabinet portfolios in the government of Prime Minister Hisham Kandil from seven to 12, out of total 35.
No sooner had the reshuffle been announced on Tuesday than the opposition began attacking it. The non-Islamist National Salvation Front (NSF), led by liberal activist Mohamed Al-Baradei, described the reshuffle as “disappointing, and it will only serve to complicate the country’s political crisis”.
In a statement on Tuesday, the NSF said “the reshuffle emphasised the fact that Islamist President Mohamed Morsi is politically obstinate and bent on helping the Muslim Brotherhood — the group from which he hails — to monopolise power.”
It added that “Morsi insisted on retaining Hisham Kandil as prime minister and refused to form a national unity or a politically neutral government to be tasked with supervising the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections.” It concluded that “the fact that there are now Brotherhood-led ministries of finance, local administration and internal trade eliminates any guarantees that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be marked by integrity.”
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal-oriented Reform and Development Party, said that “as long as Kandil remains as prime minister, the political crisis in Egypt will persist.” He added that “as the reshuffle lacks national consensus, the country will remain far from political stability.”
“This reshuffle will make it difficult for the Kandil government to conclude a $4.8 billion loan deal with the IMF, not to mention that the upcoming parliamentary elections will not be held in a climate of fairness and that the opposition’s decision to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections will be quite right.”
The reshuffle left Brotherhood members with the seven key portfolios of local administration, transport, internal trade and supply, information, manpower, education and youth. They were complemented by another batch of Brotherhood loyalists, including Amr Darrag as minister of planning and international cooperation, Sherif Hadara as minister of petroleum, Alaa Abdel-Aziz as minister of culture, Fayad Abdel-Moneim Hussein as minister of finance, and Yehia Hamed as minister of investment.
The reshuffle also included Ahmed Eissa Ahmed as minister of state for antiquities, Ahmed Suleiman as minister of justice, Hatem Bagato as minister of state for parliamentary affairs, and Ahmed Al-Gizawi as minister of agriculture and land reclamation. This brings the number of new cabinet ministers to a total of nine.
The appointment of Darrag was interesting because though chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s office in the Giza governorate and a member of the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly that drafted the new constitution, he has been highly critical of the Kandil government.
Two months ago, Darrag accused the government of performing poorly and said that “the Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] might consider dismissing it in favour of forming a national unity government.”
According to the cabinet’s official spokesman Alaa Al-Hadidi, the change in economic portfolios will not affect loan negotiations with the IMF. “Let us remember that the IMF is in negotiations with the government, rather than with individuals who may come and go,” he said, adding that “the reshuffle does not mean that there will be any change in the government’s economic and fiscal policies in the coming period.”
The three economic ministers directly in negotiation with the IMF are now Brotherhood loyalists, being Darrag (planning and international cooperation), Fayad Ibrahim (finance) and Yehia Hamed (investment). The latter was the Brotherhood official in charge of President Mohamed Morsi’s presidential election campaign.
In political terms, the choice of Hossam Bagato, 52, as minister of state for parliamentary affairs was the reshuffle’s most surprising development.
The country’s secular opposition wondered why Bagato, deputy chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court and a former deputy chairman of the Judicial Committee which took charge of supervising the 2011 presidential elections, should be selected for a government portfolio.
According to the upper house Shura Council’s non-Islamist opposition, “the selection of Bagato looks like a political bribe for a judge, not to mention the fact that Brotherhood officials have announced many times that they are against appointing members of the 2012 presidential elections commission as cabinet ministers or to hold any government positions.”
Nadia Henri, an appointed member of Shura Council, said “the selection of Bagato is a very bad development and will negatively affect the neutrality of the Constitutional Court.”
Al-Sadat told the Weekly that “the selection of Bagato raises strong doubts that he might have played a role in ensuring that Morsi won the presidential elections last year. I think that Bagato should have rejected this government position in order to dismiss rumours that his appointment was the result of a bribe against a presidential favour,” Al-Sadat said.
The new minister of justice, Ahmed Suleiman, 53, was appointed after his predecessor Ahmed Mekki decided to resign in protest at Brotherhood attempts to amend the judicial authority law. “Suleiman will find himself in a difficult position, and his priority will be to find an end to the two-week war of attrition between the Shura Council and the independent judiciary,” Al-Sadat said.
Suleiman, a former deputy minister for judicial studies, has announced several times that he is against the Shura Council’s attempts to lower the retirement age for judges from 70 to 60.
Saad Al-Katatni, chairman of the Brotherhood-affiliated FJP, argued that “the new cabinet reshuffle might have lacked consensus, but all political forces are required at this critical stage to extend a helping hand to the Kandil government and until the parliamentary elections are held.”
Al-Katatni dismissed press reports that the Brotherhood had known about the cabinet reshuffle beforehand. On 4 May, the FJP’s website published the complete list of newly-appointed cabinet ministers, reinforcing claims that the Brotherhood had the upper hand in selecting new cabinet ministers and that its leading officials, rather than Morsi, were the ones holding executive power.
Kandil told a press conference on Tuesday that the new government’s priorities would include restoring security, implementing the goals of the 25 January Revolution, and creating job opportunities by attracting greater foreign investment and boosting production.
Kandil described his newly-formed government as one of “confrontation. We are going to confront problems and offer solutions, and there is a growing sense of stability that will help us achieve our objectives,” he said. Kandil faced an attack on his life on Sunday, but he has insisted that “it was not an assassination attempt.”
In its statement on Tuesday, the NSF said that six portfolios directly affecting the upcoming parliamentary elections were still firmly in Brotherhood hands. “The fact that the ministries of information, local administration, interior trade and supply, and youth belong to the Brotherhood will make it difficult to organise free-and-fair parliamentary elections this year,” spokesman Wahid Abdel-Meguid said.
Abdel-Meguid said that the fact that Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim would stay made sure that the police forces would try to manipulate the elections in cooperation with the Brotherhood. “Morsi, like former president Hosni Mubarak, puts loyalty at the centre of his policies, and this will never bring political stability to the country,” he said.
He told the Weekly that the NSF would form “a parallel government and parliament very soon. The main goal of this will be to expose the political bankruptcy of Kandil’s policies, prove that the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood is not an inevitability, and show that change is not just a desperate hope.”
Joining forces with the secularists, several Islamist forces, especially the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party, “expressed regrets that the cabinet reshuffle will not improve the image of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
According to Nour official Shaaban Abdel-Alim, “the reshuffle is a patchwork and loyalty rather than efficiency dictated the choice of the new cabinet ministers.” Abdel-Alim said that his party had refused to join the Kandil government or to accept any of his members as provincial governors.