The health minister in Hisham Qandil’s Cabinet is a physician; the minister of finance is an accountant; the minister of housing is an engineer; the minister of justice is a judge; and the minister of interior is a police officer.
This is hardly surprising, but those who lived under the monarchy and know what a political minister is must surely have a different opinion. When a lawyer like Makram Pacha Ebeid became the minister of finance in the 1940s, he was a political minister; when Fouad Pacha Serageddin, also a lawyer, is appointed minister of transportation and later agriculture, followed by minister of social affairs and finally minister of interior, he was certainly a political figure who alternated seats in the cabinet.
The era of political ministries came to an end after the authority of the Free Officers was established and the political class was retired and replaced by experts and civil servants to run ministries until further notice. The political realm was all but off limits and all the political organisations of the 23 July regime were fragile, which prevented a new class of politicians from emerging.
Thus, the political scene was dominated by officers and civilians who were loyal to Nasser on one side and non-political experts on the other hand. Strategic leadership was assigned to the officers and their civilian supporters, and implementation was assigned to experts and civil servants who were far removed from politics, except for the occasional membership on paper in the Socialist Union.
After Abdel-Nasser’s death, the relationship formula between the officers on the one hand and experts and civil servants on the other did not change. The officers were given senior positions, such as president, vice-president, leadership of security and military institutions, while civilian experts were assigned lesser – in the eyes of the officers – cabinet posts, such as education, healthcare, etc.
These experts and civil servants were deeply leery and hateful of politics; a famous quote by former minister of tourism Fouad Sultan in the 1990s was that he proudly declared: "I am not a politician!" Another famous story about Kamal El-Ganzouri, when he was minister of planning and was asked to become more active in the National Democratic Party (NDP), was that he complained to his aides at the ministry that he "was not a thief."
In recent years, Gamal Mubarak was prone to advance expert technocrats instead of bureaucratic civil servants in order to speed up the transition to capitalism and modernising the economy. This deserves a closer look, to demonstrate the difference between a bureaucrat and a technocrat, a dissimilarity that has been lost in the debate surrounding the Morsi/Qandil cabinet. A bureaucrat has the same expertise as a technocrat, but he is an employee of the state apparatus; a technocrat is an expert who has equally worked in the state apparatus as well as outside it (the World Bank, for example).
Major General Habib Al-Adli was a bureaucrat who spent his entire career as an officer and climbed the career ladder, until he reached the top of the Ministry of Interior. But what about the businessmen whose numbers became inflated in the last years of Mubarak’s rule? These could be partially considered technocrats, since their cabinet seats were related to their field of expertise.
Zoheir Garanah, an investor in tourism, became the minister of tourism; Mohamed Mansour, an investor in transportation, became minister of transportation, etc. These technocrats should not be considered politicians despite their membership in the NDP, primarily because the NDP was not an actual political party, and, secondly, because they generally joined the ruling party after becoming ministers.
The government formed by President Mohamed Morsi is a revolt against the ascension of technocrats in recent years and is a return to heavily relying on bureaucrats. The prime minister spent his entire career as an engineer at the Ministry of Irrigation; the minister of finance was an accountant at the Ministry of Finance; the minister of social security was a researcher at the National Centre for Social and Criminal Studies; the minister of irrigation was an engineer at the Ministry of Irrigation; the minister of supply was an employee at the Holding Milling Company; the minister of electricity was an engineer at the Holding Electricity Company, and so on.
Needless to say, the same model is being applied at strategic and security ministries that have been assigned to civil servants who were officers or diplomats, such as defence, where Field Marshal Tantawi is in charge; the Ministry of Interior was assigned to Ahmed Gamaleddin; and the Foreign Ministry to Mohamed Amr. They all climbed the career ladder until they reached the top of these ministries.
To summarise, Morsi's new government is fundamentally a cabinet of employees of the state apparatus, and thus it is a bureaucratic government more than a cabinet of technocrats.
After a successful revolution, the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and the opening of new political space, it was thought that technocrats and bureaucrats would take second seat to professional politicians. A genuine politician is different from a bureaucrat or technocrat because he/she belongs to a political group, is connected and has ties outside his field of expertise and thus has a relatively broad vision and possesses faculties that are rarely present in a technocrat or bureaucrat – namely the ability to mobilise, rally and address the masses.
Many were waiting for a transition from the rule of experts and civil servants to the rule of politicians, like Makram Ebeid and Fouad Serageddin, just as in the days before 1952. After the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood put forth its politicians, nominating Khairat El-Shater for president, but it seems there was strong opposition within the state apparatus to a professional politician who is entirely from outside its corridors taking the helm. Therefore, the Brotherhood withdrew El-Shater and put forth Morsi, who is a combination of professional politician who is a product of the Brotherhood, as well as a technocrat/bureaucrat who for a long time worked at a state university.
It is no coincidence that Morsi chose Cairo University as the venue for his presidential inaugural speech to affirm his affiliation to the state apparatus. The problem in Egypt is that there is only one large political group, namely the Brotherhood, and therefore accepting the rule of politicians means surrendering to the fact that for a period of time there will be no rotation of power.
This is disturbing, especially since the Brotherhood is a religious group and not only a political group, and thus its monopoly of political posts in the state is troubling for large sectors of society. At the same time, the Brotherhood is far more skilled at mobilising for and winning elections than nurturing political cadres capable of managing state institutions. This is why, in the end, the Brotherhood was inclined to withdraw its purely political candidate and put forward a political/bureaucratic candidate.
The bureaucratic character of Morsi’s cabinet is an attempt to reassure the military and security elite and the state bureaucracy, which were very pleased recently after many of their own were given ministerial posts. The language of Egyptian bureaucracy includes such expressions as "son of the ministry," meaning a minister who is promoted from within the ministry.
This reveals the deep animosity of bureaucrats against any technocrat from outside. But if the minister who is promoted from inside the ministry is its son, then whose son is someone who becomes minister from outside?
In all honesty, the experience of Egyptian bureaucracy in recent years has been bitter under technocrat ministers, who were placed by Gamal Mubarak at the helm of the state apparatus without clear criteria, except for Gamal’s confidence in them. Nonetheless, administrators at the state apparatus must accept the reality that ministers in the coming years will come from outside the ministry, and that the state apparatus succumbs easier to an elected politician or member of a party that won a majority, because the politician in question will have a legitimacy that no technocrat could ever have after parachuting down into the top job at a ministry.
In the end, the technocrat character of the Morsi/Qandil cabinet means that it is a caretaker government; civil servants do not lead change. This cabinet will only implement necessary change to stabilise conditions and run state affairs. The exception might be in ministries that are led by Brotherhood politicians, such as information, labour and education, which will probably undergo more serious changes.
One might be surprised by the limited changes that will be implemented by the new powers in Egypt, but there were early signals by the Brotherhood's presidential candidate that changes only scratch the surface. Clear evidence of this is the priority list that the candidate announced – traffic, energy, street cleanliness, security and bread – did not include combating corruption.
Mubarak began his reign by cutting down Sadat’s business dinosaurs, such as Rashad Othman and Esmat Al-Sadat; who will Morsi cut down? Are there no corrupt figures in this country who should be held accountable?