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Personnel and policy: Cabinet changes Egypt's MPs want to see

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 28 Nov 2019
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Parliament will hold an extraordinary meeting Thursday to discuss President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to keep Tarek Amer in office as governor of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) for a second four-year term, or until 2023.

Al-Sisi took the decision on Monday amidst wide speculation that an extraordinary meeting would be held to vote on a cabinet reshuffle. A host of MPs, political analysts and informed journalists have said in recent days a cabinet reshuffle is imminent.

Parliament Apeaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs on 19 November that “the House of Representatives will reconvene on 8 December, though in the coming two weeks we may hold an extraordinary meeting.”

Though Abdel-Aal gave no further details about the possible meeting MPs and commentators expect it to be a repeat of what happened in January 2018 when an extraordinary meeting was convened following a cabinet reshuffle.

Article 147 of the constitution allows the president to reshuffle the cabinet after consultation with the prime minister and with the approval of a third of MPs attending the meeting. Parliament’s bylaws require the president to give parliament a list of portfolios to be reshuffled, and the speaker to schedule a debate at the earliest opportunity. Should parliament be in recess, an extraordinary meeting to debate and vote on the cabinet reshuffle must be held within a week of parliament receiving the list of affected ministries.

Abdel-Aal left for Cyprus on Monday to attend a Middle East-Europe parliamentary meeting scheduled for the following day, leading to speculation that the reshuffle would be announced on Wednesday or Thursday. Abdel-Aal is also due to attend celebrations marking the United Arab Emirates’ national day on 2 December, leaving a narrow window open for parliamentary formalities.

Speculation about the reshuffle reached a crescendo on 21 November when the Foreign Ministry announced that Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali had been chosen as the next director of the United Nations Office in Vienna (UNOV) and executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Deputy Speaker Salah Hassaballah told reporters on Sunday Wali’s new appointment had made a reshuffle an urgent necessity.

In recent weeks MPs have been fiercely critical of cabinet ministers, directing most of their ire at those holding service portfolios. Hassaballah added that “for this reason, I expect that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will take a note of this when deciding on cabinet changes.

“MPs have called in plenary meetings for President Al-Sisi to fire a number of ministers. A majority of MPs argue that now the three-year economic reform programme is over the government’s attention should have turned to improving the lives of the poor citizens who have been badly impacted by the reforms. Instead, they say, the government is continuing to implement neo-liberal economic policies which have negative political effects.”

Hassaballah believes the position of the ministers of supply, health, education and higher education should be reconsidered.

Mohamed Abdel-Ghani, a leftist MP representing the Cairo district of Zeitoun, told reporters on Monday that a cabinet reshuffle would be announced in a few days and could involve up to 12 ministers.

MP Osama Heikal, chairman of parliament’s Media Committee, also told reporters that the cabinet reshuffle might see the return of the post of minister of information. “There is a necessity for this post even if three organisations are now regulating the media in Egypt,” said Heikal, adding that “the minister of information could play a role in standing up to media attacks coming from TV channels linked with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The reshuffle should reflect the concerns of MPs over the failure of the government to put in place a social safety net for the poorest families, said Abdel-Ghani.

“I think that any cabinet reshuffle should include the ministers of health, education, higher education and supply. Their performances have been heavily criticised by MPs. And while there are cabinet ministers — housing, transport and electricity — who are performing well and should remain, the economic group, including the ministers of finance, industry and trade, planning and investment, should also be replaced. Yes, they have done a great job over the last three years, but their neo-liberal orientation has served its purpose and now we need a change of policy. We need to focus on protecting the neediest in society.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Personnel and policy

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