MP Mustafa Bakri says he has reliable information that a cabinet reshuffle is imminent, though whether it will include a limited number of ministers or a complete overhaul of the government of Prime Minister Madbouli is unclear.
Other sources hazard more details: Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli will retain his post, as will the cabinet’s economic group and the ministers of defence, interior and foreign affairs. “Success in mitigating the negative impact of the coronavirus crisis will keep economic ministers in place,” said one source who predicts the ministers of finance, planning, international cooperation, housing and transport will all retain their cabinet seats.
Interviewed on television, Bakri said anyone seeking to know who is in and who is out should watch closely what happens in the House of Representatives where ministers who face concerted criticism from MPs are likely heading for the exit.
On 19 January Minister of Information Osama Heikal was roundly criticised by MPs. Ashraf Rashad, spokesman of the majority Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland) Party, said it was unacceptable for Heikal to serve as both minister of information and chairman of the Egyptian Media Production Company (EMPC).
Rashad questioned the legality of Heikal occupying the posts simultaneously, a concern that MP Mustafa Salem, deputy chairman of the Budget Committee, backed. “If Heikal wants to stay as minister of information he should resign as EMPC chairman and repay the money he has received from this post,” said Salem.
“Heikal has failed to achieve the ministry of information’s goals, largely due to ongoing conflicts between the minister and journalists and media institutions. Maybe it’s time to consider disbanding the ministry of information,” added Salem.
According to Nader Mustafa, deputy chairman of the Media Committee, “television channels broadcasting from Turkey and Qatar have been able to exploit the conflict between Heikal and media workers to tarnish the image of Egypt, which is reason enough for Heikal to resign.”
In response, Heikal insisted that since coming to office in June 2018 he has worked consistently to develop the ministry’s role in defending Egypt and explaining government policy.
“I would also remind people that many people supported the revival of the Ministry of Information and the post was resurrected on an initiative from President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to fill a void in the information and media sector.”
Heikal stressed that while the constitution divides responsibility for forging information strategies between the National Press Council, the National Media Council, and the Higher Council for Media Regulation, the first two organisations are hamstrung by accumulated debts of LE 62 billion.
On 21 January, Minister of Public Enterprise Hisham Tawfik joined Heikal in the crosshairs of MPs. According to Bakri, “Tawfik’s policies will push thousands of workers into unemployment.”
While Tawfik conceded that attempts to reform public sector companies have yet to bear fruit he insisted his ministry’s privatisation and liquidation policies were fully supported by the government and endorsed by the constitution.
MPs, in turn, demanded a parliamentary fact-finding committee be formed to review the government’s privatisation policies, with Alaa Abed, head of the Transport Committee, insisting that if Tawfik believes privatisation is the solution for the problems of public sector companies it was reason enough for him to resign.
Essam Hilal, Mostaqbal Watan’s assistant secretary-general, told journalists that “while we hear from different sources that a cabinet reshuffle is on the cards,” he could not say whether or not the news was correct.
“The constitution does not stipulate that the government should resign following the election of a new parliament, and Article 146 clearly states that the president of the republic has full authority to appoint a new government at any time.
“It is up to the president to decide on this matter,” said Hilal.
Article 146 of the constitution mandates the president to entrust a prime minister to form a government and deliver a policy statement before the House of Representatives. If the president’s appointed government then fails to win the confidence of a majority of MPs within 30 days, the president must then appoint a prime minister nominated by the majority party, or by the coalition that holds the majority in the House of Representatives.
Article 147 allows the president of the republic to relieve a sitting government of its duties, but only if the move has the support of a majority of MPs.
Prime Minister Madbouli came to office in June 2018. At the time he said the main job of his government was to see through the implementation of the 2016 IMF-inspired economic reform programme.
There have been two limited cabinet reshuffles in recent years. The first was in March 2019, when Kamel Al-Wazir was appointed as minister of transport. The second, in December 2019, saw 10 new cabinet ministers named by Al-Sisi and Madbouli and approved by parliament.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.