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Middle East

Egypt PM draws on technocrats, Islamists in new govt

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi meets with Egypt's new Prime Minster Hisham Kandil at the presidential palace in Cairo, July 25, 2012. REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS)

CAIRO: Egypt's prime minister has drawn on bureaucrats and Islamists for the country's first Muslim Brotherhood-led administration, disappointing those who wanted a more inclusive government able to carry forward the revolution which toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Prime Minister-designate Hisham Kandil's appointment of at least two Brotherhood politicians, including one as education minister, marked a major break with the past. But the cabinet's heavy reliance on civil servants also smacked of the Mubarak era, when government was run by technocrats.

The new cabinet should help President Mohamed Mursi assert more authority in a state where the army still has a powerful say. The choice of defence minister was one of the few portfolios not announced on Wednesday.

"We are a long way from a revolutionary government, a long way from renewing the blood at the top of the Egyptian administration," said Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

Incumbents who kept their jobs included Finance Minister Mumtaz al-Saeed and Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr Kamel, both of them career bureaucrats. The government - replacing an interim one which took office last year - i s due to be sworn in on Thursday.

The new interior minister was named as Ahmed Gamal el-Din, a career policeman similar to those who held the job under Mubarak. He pledged to confront the lawlessnness of which Egyptians have complained since Mubarak was deposed. "Egypt needs security and stability," he said, after meeting Kandil.

Mostafa Mussad, a member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, was appointed education minister. Another Brotherhood member was appointed to run the housing ministry.

Facing a wave of criticism from non-Islamists, Kandil appeared to row back on a decision to appoint a hardline Salafi scholar as minister of religious endowments. Mohamed Ibrahim, the scholar, said this week he had been offered the job.

The new government nonetheless gives the Brotherhood, banned before the revolution which toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11 2011, a powerful influence in Egypt.

Egyptian newspapers have said Kandil himself has close links to the Brotherhood, though he has denied it. Minister of irrigation in the outgoing cabinet, Kandil was a little-known technocrat until Mursi nominated him as prime minister.

"This is a government that serves the interests of the Brotherhood," said Refaat el-Saeed, head of the leftist Tagammu Party.

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The ministries of investment and oil, major economic portfolios, were handed to top-level state employees.

Osama Saleh, the head of the state-owned General Authority for Investment, said he would be investment minister, and Osama Kamal, the head of the Egyptian Petrochemical Holding Co., said he had been appointed oil minister.

The stock market appeared to tentatively welcome the announcement, the main index ending 1.5 percent higher. While the cabinet did not include high-profile economy specialists hoped for by investors, some were reassured by the fact that its make-up did not mark a radical break with the past.

"The names of the ministers show that Egypt wants to send a message of stability to the business community," said Mohsen Adel, vice chairman and managing director of Pioneer Funds, a financial institution.

The incoming government faces economic problems including a looming balance of payments crisis and high state borrowing costs, factors which analysts say discouraged economists and bankers approached by Mursi from taking the post of prime minister, prolonging the wait for the new cabinet.

Some of the non-Islamists who backed Mursi's election campaign in order to prevent Mubarak's last prime minister from winning the presidency have criticised the Brotherhood for rowing back on promises of an inclusive administration.

Yet other parties had publicly stated they would not take part in the government, meaning the Brotherhood will bear the burden of failings that seem hard to avoid in a country faced with such grave economic challenges.

The government must also address issues including power cuts and lax security. "This is a testing period for a government that is likely to face quick and strong criticism immediately," said Hafez Abou Saeda, a human rights activist and lawyer.

"The new government faces a tough battle with time."

 

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