Liberals dominate Egypt's new cabinet after reshuffle

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 18 Jul 2011

Liberal figures swept the new cabinet in a reshuffle led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, although some NDP faces remain in place

Ali Elselmy & Hazem Elbeblawy
Ali Elselmy & Hazem Elbeblawy

After almost one week of deliberations, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was able to wrap up the formation of his government's new reshuffle. Regardless of when new cabinet ministers will finally be sworn in, the fact remains that liberal and secular faces are sure to hold key portfolios.

Topping the list of liberal figures is Hazem Beblawi, who was appointed deputy minister for economic affairs and minister of finance. Beblawi, 75, replaced Samir Radwan, who was fired from his position largely due to his long-term membership of ousted President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP). Much worse for Radwan, he was also a member of NDP's influential Policies Committee led by Mubarak's son Gamal.

Beblawi is a firm believer in liberal policies and thought. His numerous articles in Egyptian local newspapers – especially Al-Ahram – show that he is a strong advocate of the market economy, rationalising subsidies and decentralisation. Beblawi was also a big critic of the economic and political policies of the defunct regime of Hosni Mubarak, accusing it of pursuing a repressive and autocratic agenda that came at the expense of liberalism and respect for human rights. Just two months before the toppling of Mubarak's regime, Beblawi called for turning Egypt into, “a parliamentary democracy.” According to him, “what Egypt needs most is a big change in policies rather than in officials and leaders.”

In addition to Beblawi, the cabinet reshuffle brought three leading officials of the liberal-oriented Wafd party into the cabinet. On top of these is Ali El-Salmi, a former minister of administrative development (1977-1978) and a prime minister of Al-Wafd party's shadow cabinet. Al-Silmi, 75, was appointed deputy minister for political affairs, dialogue and transition to democracy. He was also entrusted with the portfolio of investment and public business. Like Beblawi, El-Salmi was a fierce critic of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. He urged the Wafd party to withdraw from the second round of 2010's parliamentary elections, arguing that, “it is a big shame for liberals to participate in a big farce orchestrated by the ruling NDP.”

El-Salmi is also a big supporter of the private sector and liberal economic forces. This, however, may not go so far as for him to try to re-launch the privatisation programme which was bogged down in a quagmire after the January 25 Revolution. The political activists of the revolution hate privatisation and blame it for rampant social unrest and the widening of the gap between the rich and poor.

In general, the Wafd party received the lion's share of posts in Sharaf’s new cabinet. It also includes businessman Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour as minister of tourism and Osama Heikal as minister of information. Heikal is entrusted with liberalising Egypt's state-run television and radio sector to stand up to fierce competition from private satellite networks.

The appointment of liberal faces in key posts was generally welcomed by the youth movements of the January 25 Revolution. For example, the Coalition of the Youth of January 25 Revolution said that, “the sit-in organised at Tahrir Square since July 8 has begun to bear fruit, the most evident of which is the new cabinet reshuffle led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.” Members of the Coalition's Executive Office, such as Nasser Abdel-Hamid, believe that, “the government was purged of most NDP faces, such as the Minister of Military Production Sayed Meshaal, Minister of Finance Samir Radwan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed El-Orabi, and Minister of Higher Education Amr Ezzat Salama.”

The Coalition and other revolutionaries, however, stand against other NDP-affiliated ministers who have retained their positions. At the top of this list are Minister of International Cooperation and Planning Fayza Aboul-Naga, Minister of Education Gamaleddin Moussa, and Minister of Environment Maged George. They also have strong objections to Mansour El-Eissawi in charge of the Interior Ministry and Mohamed Abdel-Aziz El-Guindy for the Justice Ministry. “We believe that the new Sharaf government should be completely clean of any NDP figures,” said Abdel-Hamid.

The new reshuffle included one leftist figure; namely Minister of Social Solidarity Gouda Abdel-Khaleq. In contrast with the liberal Wafdists, Abdel-Khaleq is against cutting subsidies or re-launching privatisation.

Islamist forces were kept out of the new cabinet reshuffle. The Muslim Brotherhood said one week ago that it rejects joining any cabinet reshuffle. Saad El-Katatni, secretary-general of Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said, “the group is ready to join only elected governments.” The Brotherhood's leaders believe that, “it would be a big loss to join any government at the present time and that it is better to wait until a new parliament is elected and a new prime minister is selected.”

“The Freedom and Justice Party does not have any intentions to join a million-man rally at Tahrir Square on Friday, July 22, under the title of Friday of Stability,” said El-Katatni.

“We call for an end for all sit-ins organised at Tahrir Square at Cairo or at the squares of any cities in Egypt because these sit-ins cause a lot of harm to national interests and stand against political and economic stability,” he added.

El-Katatni also emphasised that the Freedom and Justice Party will stay away from any debates over a document on supra-constitutional principles, which was proposed by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

Unlike the Brotherhood's political party, however, the reaction of other Islamist forces was rather nervous. Leaders of the Salafists said that, “the new cabinet reshuffle was mainly aimed to appease the protesters in Tahrir Square.” The Salafists called for organising “the Friday of Sharia” to protest against “SCAF's proposed document on supra-constitutional principles.” The so-called Salafist Front argued that, “the new cabinet reshuffle and the document on supra-constitutional principles go against the will of the majority of Egyptians.”

“It is just aimed to satisfy the secularists and liberals, and this is very bad for recovering stability,” said a statement issued by the Salafist Front.

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