After another reshuffle, can the 'new look' Egyptian cabinet get the job done?

Omar Halawa , Wednesday 23 Mar 2016

Following the new reshuffle on Wednesday, questions still loom over the future performance of PM Sherif Ismail's cabinet

Sherif Ismail
Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (Reuters)

Ten new Egyptian ministers were sworn in by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Wednesday as part of a reshuffle that included the ministers of investment, finance, tourism, irrigation, civil aviation, justice, manpower, antiquities and transportation, with a new business sector ministry set up.

"When there is a stable government that operates normally, things will always go well," El-Sisi said last month in a public speech.

"I meet with the cabinet members on a daily basis and I can decide whether they are good or not, but believe me, if anything needs to be restructured we will do that," he added.

A few weeks following the speech, local media outlets started publishing reports over an expected minimum cabinet reshuffle before it was officially confirmed by Prime Minster Sherif Ismail on Monday.

Although incidents of police violations against doctors and ordinary citizens stirred public anger, interior minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar kept his post.

Health minister Ahmed Emad El-Din also kept his post despite rejecting to implement some suggestions made by the Doctors Syndicate in the wake of police violations and other demands to improve the medical service.

Ismail's cabinet is still facing several challenges including the rise of the US dollar exchange rate in front of the Egyptian pound, which caused a hike in prices of commodities and affected the industrial and importing process.

Akram El-Alfy, a political researcher, says that the problem with Ismail's cabinet and the majority of the governments that took control after the 25 January uprising is that most ministers were from technocratic backgrounds with no political experience or perspective.

"The main reason behind the reshuffle is not only related to the performance of some ministries, but the public anger with the current economic situation and some frustrating media statements made by officials," El-Alfy told Ahram Online.

"Also bear in mind that the presidency takes into consideration the reports issued by security and the monitoring bodies over the cabinet members while evaluating their performance," El-Alfy said.

"At the end of the day, though, you cannot only depend on the aforementioned factors while evaluating the performance of any official, as I believe the main standard here is whether this official is performing in a way that reflects a political vision and a social perspective," he explained.

The cabinet's performance assessment as well as the awaited policy statement, which includes the cabinet's strategic policies in managing the state, are to be delivered by the prime minister to the parliament on Sunday.

Formed in September 2015, Ismail's cabinet included 16 new ministers who replaced those of the cabinet of former prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab.

Ismail's changes mainly focused on economic and public service-related ministries.

El-Alfy sees that the timing of the reshuffle is not, as some have suggested, an attempt to circumvent parliamentary oversight of the cabinet, and therefore is not related to the government's announced date of 27 March to deliver its policy statement to the House.

"I don’t think the parliament will collide with the presidency's will and the policy statement will be passed, even if there were some outspoken rejections over it, as I believe that eventually the fate of this cabinet will be decided by the president," he explained.

Echoing El-Alfy's argument, MP Haitham Abul-Ezz Hariri told daily independent newspaper Al-Shorouk on Monday that the president gave the cabinet a form of "preemptive confidence, and thus the MPs could not reject a cabinet that the president needs."

According to the constitution, the parliament has to ratify the policy statement within 30 days of its submission. If it does not win a majority vote by MPs, the party or the coalition with the largest parliamentary bloc must name a new prime minister.

Economist Wael Gamal says the policy statement will tackle some austerity measures that are sponsored by the presidency and the cabinet, as there is a real shift towards downsizing the public expenditures.

"The current cabinet is convinced of those measures and will implement them," Gamal told Ahram Online. "Even the new ministers are convinced of the austerity measurements."

"The reshuffle will not change in any way the main policy the state is shifting towards," he said.

Gamal added that he believes some of the ministers are inefficient in their posts.

"Look at Ismail's cabinet. They are all technocrats but some of them come from the banking or the financial sector, such as the ministers of finance and international cooperation," he said.

"Why? In order to satisfy businessmen, investors and the public sector regardless of the ministers' efficiency or whether they are the right candidates for their posts."

However, PM Ismail defended the cabinet's policy in press statements after the ministers' swearing-in on Wednesday, saying that they are tasked with "reducing the budget deficit as well as the development of the taxes and customs system."

Egypt's presidency also announced its full of support of the new ministers, saying in a statement on Wednesday that the ministers can "carry out the tasks they are asked to do."

However, Said Sadiq, a political sociology professor, said that the fact that the majority of the ministers chosen by the regime are not trained politically to speak publicly will always cause problems.

"Why was justice minister Ahmed El-Zend sacked last week? Because of a public uproar over media statements he made," Sadiq told Ahram Online.

"This affected the president's image and forced the PM to sack the minster," he said.

"The thing is that the cabinet always operates in a reactionary way, not proactively, and this will not be helpful in either the short or the long terms, as we need to have an elaborated strategy to combat much more sensitive issues such as corruption, terrorism and social development." 

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