Egypt PM Qandil makes some surprise, controversial ministerial choices

Gamal Essam El-Din, Friday 3 Aug 2012

More Islamists chosen last minute to cabinet of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil before the swearing-in ceremony Thursday; cabinet short on women and Copts; choice of ministers of information and justice thorny to some

Qandil and Morsi
Egypt's PM Hisham Qandil takes oath of office before Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in Presidential palace, Cairo (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Newly appointed Prime Minister Hisham Qandil completed the formation of his government Thursday morning. In total, the Qandil government includes 35 ministers, compared to 29 under his predecessor, Kamal El-Ganzouri. Qandil’s government includes 29 technocrats (seven of whom served under El-Ganzouri), four ministers from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, one minister from the moderate Islamist Al-Wasat Party, and one from the Salafist Al-Nahda Party.

A few hours before completing his government, Qandil surprised all by appointing controversial figures as the ministers of information and justice.

Qandil selected Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, a Muslim Brotherhood member of the board of the Journalists' Syndicate, as minister of information. Abdel-Maqsoud, a journalist who belongs to Dar El-Tahrir publication house, will replace Ahmed Anis, a retired army general.

The appointment of Abdel-Maqsoud means that the state-owned Television and Radio Union (TRU) will fall, for the first time in its 50 year history, under the control of an Islamist. This may not go down well with some TRU employees who have been accused by several high-profile Muslim Brotherhood figures in recent days of airing fabricated news about the group. Two days ago, the supreme guide of Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, filed a lawsuit against Anis, accusing him of disseminating “lies” about his meeting with Islmail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip.

The appointment of Abdel-Maqsoud could also come as a shock to some journalists who see it as a new Brotherhood step towards imposing its hegemony on state-owned press organisations. However, Abdel-Maqsoud said he extends his hand to all political factions with the objective of "liberating the state media."

Qandil also decided to appoint Ahmed Mekki as minister of justice. Mekki, a former deputy chairman of the Court of Cassation, could also cause anger among judicial authorities, especially the High Constitutional Court (HCC) and the independent Judges' Club.  Mekki leveled several accusations against the HCC, arguing that its verdicts, especially the one that invalidated the People’s Assembly on 14 June, were politicised and that its judges are loyal to the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Mekki is prominent reformist judge who did not hesitate to voice strident criticism of Mubarak and his rule before the 2011 revolution. He was one of the leading figures of the judges protests against Mubarak and his regime in 2006 that demanded judicial independence, accusing Mubarak's NDP (National Democratic Party) of rigging the 2005 parliamentary elections.

The appointment of Mekki will be especially distressing to the Judges' Club who asked Qandil that former Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid retain his position. The Club’s chairman, Ahmed El-Zind, warned that it would stand up to any minister trying to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Some analysts view Mekki as independent but with leanings towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qandil affirmed Wednesday that Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi will retain his position as minister of defence. Press reports concluded that the recent tension between Tantawi, who ruled Egypt after former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011, and newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi has delayed the formation of Qandil's government.

The tension erupted after Morsi proposed that Tantawi be promoted to the post of a vice president, but Tantawi refused, taking it as a step towards stripping him of his influential powers as minister of defence.

Some American newspapers suggested that US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta played a reconciliatory role between Tantawi and Morsi in his meeting with them Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Qandil decided to keep seven ministers from Kamal El-Ganzouri’s government. These include some of the controversial “sovereign” ministries that delayed the formation of the government. The eight ministers are: Tantawi as minister of defence; Mohamed Kamel Amr as minister of foreign affairs; Ali Sabri as minister of military production; Momtaz El-Said as minister of finance; Nadia Zakhari as minister of scientific production; Nagwa Khalil as minister of social insurance; and Mohamed Saber Arab as minister of culture.

Qandil’s government includes just two women (Nagwa Khalil and Nadia Zakhari) and one Coptic Christian (Nadia Zakhari). This may not go over well with the United States, whose secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said in a press conference two days ago that America has high hopes that Qandil’s government would be inclusive, with numerous women and Christians joining it.

Forceful former minister of international cooperation and planning, Fayza Abul-Naga, will be replaced by Ashraf Al-Arabi. The US was pleased when Abul-Naga indicated she would leave office. She was accused by the US media of orchestrating a crackdown campaign against NGOs receiving foreign funding.

Qandil indicated that four new ministries were created. These are the ministry of utilities, drinking water and sanitary drainage; the ministry of investment; the ministry of youth; and the ministry of sports.

Click here for a complete list of Qandil’s government.

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