Meet Egypt's new Prime Minister Sherif Ismail

Ahram Online , Saturday 12 Sep 2015

Sherif Ismail
Egypt's new Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (Photo: Al-Ahram)

As President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi instructs Sherif Ismail, minister of petroleum in the outgoing cabinet of Ibrahim Mahlab, to form a new cabinet as prime minister within a week, questions arise over the background and the identity of Egypt's third premier after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Looking at the 60-year-old's resume, one might get the sense that he is a technocrat and pragmatic, with zero political activity in terms of joining any political party, or high profile or controversial comments or statements, unlike some other minsters in Mahlab’s outgoing cabinet.

Egypt's new prime minister: Career history

Ismail is a mechanical engineer by trade, who was born in July 1955, is married, and has two children.

Ismail graduated from the faculty of engineering at Ain Shams University in 1978, and started his career at the multinational oil company Mobil.

In 1979 he moved to the Egyptian company engineering for the Petroleum and Process Industries (Enppi), before joining its board of directors till he became the deputy minister of petroleum in charge of oil and gas operations from 2000 to 2005.

In 2005 he became the chairman of the Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) till year 2007 in which he was appointed as the chairman of the Ganoub El-Wadi Petroleum Holding Company (GANOPE).

Ismail had served as petroleum minister since July 2013, first under Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, and then under Ibrahim Mahlab, who was appointed prime minister in February 2014.

In August, during the tenure of Ismail as petroleum minister, Italy's Eni announced the discovery of gas reserves of up to 30 trillion cubic feet in the sea off the north coast of Egypt, one of the largest gas finds ever in Egypt and in the Mediterranean.

Also during his tenure in July 2014, the government raised fuel prices by up to 78 percent in order to cut fuel subsidies by up to LE44 billion, part of a wider government plan to reduce its budget deficit from 12.8 percent to 10 percent of GDP.

"The decision to appoint Sherif Ismail to the premiership is right on point, as it comes at a time when Egypt needs to focus on economic reform, in which reforming the energy sector is a vital parameter," Osama Kamal, a former petroleum minister, told Ahram Online on Saturday.

"Ismail was successful in managing a number of key issues, including repaying the government's overdue to the petroleum sector, satisfying local energy demand and managing new discoveries," Kamal added.

A glimpse of his views

In August 2014, Ismail gave testimony in former president Hosni Mubarak’s trial on accusations of selling gas to Israel at below market prices, as he used to serve as deputy minister of petroleum in charge of oil and gas operations.

“During this period we started studying the idea of exporting natural gas, after making several major discoveries. There was a surplus Egypt should benefit from, and eventually Egypt wasn’t harmed, as the price of selling the gas was appropriate, and increases the cost price,” Ismail said before court.

Mubarak was acquitted of the charges some three months later.

Moreover, Ismail said in an Interview in September 2014 with Al-Nahar privately-owned TV channel, that he doesn’t mind importing gas from Israel.

“Generally speaking, we need not reject this idea, especially if it will secure added value for Egypt’s economy, which will contribute to activating the use of its gas industry infrastructure,” he said.

New cabinet to face parliament vote

The new cabinet is being formed a few months before the establishment of the long-awaited parliament, elections for which conclude in December. Given this, constitutional law expert Shawky El-Sayed believes that the new cabinet will need to submit its programme to parliament for approval.

"The elected parliament will vote on the programme of the appointed cabinet," El-Sayed told Ahram Online. "There will be two scenarios following the vote; either parliament will vote in favour or it will vote against the programme."

He further explained that if a majority of MPs vote against the programme, they will be tasked with nominating a new prime minister, according to the Egyptian constitution.

Egypt, which has been without a parliament since 2012, will hold multi-stage parliamentary elections between October and December.

According to Article 146 of the 2014 constitution, while the president has the right to appoint a prime minister, parliament must approve any new cabinet through a vote of confidence in its proposed programme.

The article stipulates that "if his government does not win the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives within thirty days at the most, the president shall appoint a prime minister who is nominated by the party or the coalition that holds the majority or the highest number of seats in the House of Representatives."

El-Sayed further explained that If the government of the prime minister selected by the majority in parliament fails on a subsequent occasion to win the confidence of the majority of MPs then parliament shall be dissolved, according to the same article of the constitution. 

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