President El-Sisi's men?

Dina Ezzat , Monday 5 Jan 2015

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is doing his best to manage personnel quietly as the country prepares for a new parliament, and changes within its cabinet and governors

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (R) in a meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab (Photo: Handout provided by the Egyptian Presidency)

“It’s in the works” is the phrase that is used by politicians and officials to answer three key questions that are being asked in Egypt today: Who will be the president’s new governors? Who are the ministers that the president is likely to dismiss in the potential upcoming reshuffle? Who will top of the list of parliamentarians that are supposed to run in the legislative elections as representatives of the president’s political camp?

“Not an easy job” is another phrase that is used by the same politicians to explain the complications of the finalisation of the president’s choices of governors, ministers and loyalist parliamentarians.

“What the president is looking for are people who are dedicated and who can deliver and who have no vested interests or any particular agenda – they should also preferably be of no association oto the era of [former president Hosni] Mubarak,” said one executive official.

The same source explained that while this should be an easy task in theory, it is proving to be difficult in practice.

“On the choice of governors,” said a highly informed source, “the president is faced with two issues: the first is that he wants reliable people who can promptly tend to tough challenges ranging from declining infrastructure to tense political and socio-economic issues especially in the governorates with heavy densities of either political Islamists or Christians.

The second issue is that he does not want to “go too far in assigning former military and police to these jobs to avoid the claims of the militarisation of the state, although he is firmly convinced that at this moment of tough challenge with parliamentary elections around the corner, “former military and police generals offer the right choice given their ability to impose discipline.”

Already, the same source said that a few months ago a list of proposed governors “mostly new and with many former police and military generals,” was considered by the president and nearly adopted before being “put on hold to avoid the militarisation discourse.”

Today, the president, who has decided for now to put off the re-division of state governorates, is convinced that he needs no less than 12 governors of former police and military experience – for all the borders governorates which are offering a serious – and what some would argue is unprecedented – security challenge, and for the governorates with a large Islamist presence and large Christian population.

“It is not a time where you could take a risk; you have so much at stake now; we are preparing for two major events: the economic investment conference, which should help us set the economy on the right path, and the parliamentary elections; those in charge of zones of possible problems should know how to react promptly,” the same official said.

He offered no final date for the announcement of the final revised list of the new governors but said that “it should be a few days.”

In the final list, the same source added, one should expect that around 50 percent or slightly more of the governors will be of military or police background.

On the cabinet reshuffle, sources say, the situation is much more complex. According to one highly informed political source, the president has been offered candid and repeated advice to consider changing his prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab and not just a few ministers whose performance has been disappointing.

“The argument made against the prime minister is that he is a man with a lot of energy but with limited vision and what Egypt needs today are people with vision; I am not sure, however, that this is the assessment of the president; he does not speak much and the current prime minister seems to have his full confidence – I should say his full earned confidence because he is in close consultation with the president on daily basis,” the political source said.

According to this and other sources there was a moment not long ago where the president had suggested he would want to keep the current prime minister post the election of a new parliament, a development that should, according to the constitution that was adopted in 2014, bring about a parliament majority supported government.

“It was one of the things the president had in mind when he was discussing the parliamentarian elections and the nomination of parliamentarian candidates who should be supporting of the president’s vision,” the same source added.

Today, according to several sources, the president does not talk as much of keeping his current prime minister post the parliamentarian election which should, if all goes according to the tentative schedule, deliver the new legislative council by the late weeks of spring.

“He, however, is unlikely to let go of him now,” the source added.

One reason the president is said to want his prime minister to stay on board is the good chemistry between the two men. “The prime minister knows that the president is at heart a commander in chief and he is acting as a soldier in the battlefield,” said one high-ranking official.

He added that there is also the “crucial” element of close and smooth cooperation with concerned military divisions on the mega project of digging an annex to the Suez Canal, a project that the president is counting on to start a huge economic and business hub to the east of the Canal.

Another reason why the president wants to keep his prime minister is the hard-working nature of the head of cabinet and the good relations he has with most of his cabinet members.

Presidential sources also suggest the head of the executive is uncomfortable with the idea of changing his prime minister ahead of the economic conference and the parliamentarian elections.

“He is particularly concerned about the economic conference and is not very impressed with the preparations so far and he does not like the fact that the process is neither efficient nor sufficiently quick,” one presidential source said.

On account of most sources who spoke to Ahram Online, around seven ministers, essentially on the services front, will need to go given the president’s dismay with their performance.

“He thinks that on the one hand it is a good idea to change them now to improve the overall performance, regarding services, but at the same time he is not comfortable with having several reshuffles with only a few months in between – given that there would have to be one this summer after the parliamentarian elections,” the presidential source said.

He added that there is also the concern about finding “dedicated and hard-working ministers who could meet the expectations of the president”.

Most sources seem to be of the opinion that “some ministers would have to go sometime this month” to allow for more efficient elements to join the cabinet.

“There is no final decision but he is clearly considering his options,” the presidential source said.

Choosing eligible parliamentarian candidates is not as tough a job as choosing governors and ministers but the problem is with getting a comprehensive and matching list that could run and secure around two thirds of the parliament’s seats.

There again, political sources speak of a “presidential unease” about an excessive accommodation of either former members of the Mubarak-led National Democratic Party or candidates of too close an association to the business figures that dominated the scene during the rule of Mubarak.

The head of the executive is said to be holding meetings with Kamal El-Ganzouri, a former prime minister who was initially acting as an informal economic advisor to El-Sisi before being assuming the tough job of coming up with a candidates list that should secure parliamentarian support for a set of laws that the president has already adopted particularly those that will allow for economic reforms that Cairo is already discussing with top donors and with the IMF.

El-Ganzouri, said one source who attends most of the meetings held by the former prime minister, is not very far from getting the job done but he is always a few steps away from the final line.

According to this source, “there is much confusion.”

“One day someone is committed to working with El-Ganzouri and the next, they walk out on him,” he added.

This, he attributes, to the “divisive influence” of some of the Mubarak-era parliamentarians who are trying to defuse the efforts of a pro-El-Sisi independent parliamentarian list which could have the support of the state.

“They want to dominate the next parliament in to rebuild their links with presidency – they might succeed, eventually,” he said. 

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