CAIRO: Egypt's president on Tuesday appointed a young, independent U.S.-educated Cabinet minister as the new premier, assigned to turn the nation's economy and internal security around after 17 months of instability and protests.
The designation of Hesham Kandil comes nearly a month after President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was sworn in as Egypt's first freely elected civilian president. The time it took just to select a prime minister reflects the difficulties Morsi has had in putting together an administration.
"Patience is required," Kandil said in a short televised address after his appointment was announced. Delivering what he said was a shared message from him and the president, Kandil called for unity and expressed confidence that the Egyptian people would overcome serious challenges.
The military, which took power after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year, still holds the final say over much of Egypt's governing, leaving it unclear what the new prime minister's powers will be.
Still in doubt is whether Kandil and Morsi will be able to name the heads of key ministries overseeing foreign relations, state budgets and security forces, where there is deep resistance to the Brotherhood president. Already the military has said that it, not the civilian government, appoints the defense minister.
Kandil, an engineer in his 40s, will have to consult with the president before naming Cabinet ministers.
Morsi had promised to pick someone from outside the Brotherhood to lead a unity government that would include other political factions. Kandil does not have any affiliation with Islamist groups or political parties, state TV said.
Kandil is believed to be religious on a personal level, wearing a light beard and interspersing his past comments to the news media with religious references.
Emad Gad of the liberal Social Democratic Party said many of the people suggested for prime minister did not want the job because they felt the post would be just a vehicle to execute Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood's program, known as "the Renaissance project," aimed at overhauling the government and economy.
Gad said he believes the Brotherhood's executive council had considerable say in Kandil's selection.
"They brought in someone who is not from the Brotherhood, but whose ideology is similar," he said.
Morsi's spokesman, Yasser Ali, said the "the appointment of a patriotic, independent figure was studied and discussed" in order to find someone capable of managing the current situation.
The spokesman for the ultraconservative Islamic Al-Nour Party said Kandil's selection came as a surprise, but he is an acceptable choice.
"He has many issues to deal with, starting with lawlessness," Yousseri Hamad said. Al-Nour indicated it would consider joining the new government if asked.
Kandil is the minister of water resources and irrigation in the outgoing military-appointed government. He earned his masters and doctorate degrees at the University of North Carolina and worked at the African Development Bank, focusing on Nile Basin countries. He was part of an observer mission for Egypt in talks with Sudan on Nile River water issues.
He was brought into the government after Mubarak's fall, serving under Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, a Mubarak-era prime minister reappointed to the post by the military in late 2011.
Differences between the Brotherhood, which held the most seats in parliament before the legislature was dissolved last month, and the outgoing Cabinet has so far cost Egypt a vital inflow of financial assistance.
Because of the turmoil in the country, which dried up tourism and foreign investments, Egypt's foreign currency reserves dropped by more than one-half since the popular uprising. Cairo asked the International Monetary Fund for a $3.2 billion aid package. The IMF insists on political consensus in Cairo before approving the loan.
The Brotherhood has been at odds with the Cabinet's spending and repaying scheme for the loan, and that has stalled its approval.
Since Morsi's win, the Brotherhood has also been squeezed by the military's grip on authority. Just before he took office, the military dissolved parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood and other Islamists, and the generals took over legislative powers as well as other points of authority.
Although Morsi's spokesman on Tuesday reiterated the president's support for a unity government that brings in a vast array of political forces, some in the opposition want no part in it.
Gad said his Social Democratic Party, which won just a handful of seats in parliament, will not join the new government because its failures and successes should be the Brotherhood's alone to shoulder.
"They have their own Renaissance project that they want to execute. We are not convinced of their program, so we will not take part in it," Gad said.