Egypt's new cabinet: Strengthening the hand of reformers

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 21 Jun 2018

Egypt’s new government will face a vote of confidence in parliament next week

New Egyptian Cabinet
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly stand in the middle of ministers of the new Egyptian cabinet (Photo: Egypt's Presidential Spokesperson Facebook Page)

Egypt’s new cabinet, sworn in by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 14 June and led by Mustafa Madbouli, will submit a policy statement to parliament next week.

Constitutional expert Salah Fawzi expects the policy statement to be delivered on 23 or 24 June. MPs will then vote on it in accordance with Article 146 of the constitution which states a newly appointed prime minister must deliver a policy statement before parliament that MPs then vote on within 30 days.

After the new prime minister delivers his policy statement, a parliamentary committee will be formed to review and discuss the document in detail, Fawzi told reporters.

“Once the ad hoc committee prepares a comprehensive report on the statement it will submit it to parliament to discuss in a plenary session and then put it up for a vote of confidence at the end of the debate.”

Independent MP Saad Hammouda told Al-Ahram Weekly he expects “the policy statement of the new government to prioritise completing mega-development projects, including the New Administrative Capital which was under the supervision of Madbouli when he was housing minister, and implementing the next stage of the IMF-inspired economic reforms.

“This is a reformist government led by a young prime minister who has been heavily involved in implementing the first stage of the IMF-supported economic programme,” said Hammouda.

Fawzi expects the appointment of a new government will be followed by a reshuffle of governors.

“Article 25 of the current Local Administration Law states that there should be a reshuffle of governors following the president of the republic taking the constitutional oath before parliament,” said Fawzi. President Al-Sisi was sworn in by the House on 2 June.

The most significant government changes were the replacement of Sedki Sobhi as minister of defence, Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar as minister of interior and Amr Al-Garhi as minister of finance, MP Mohamed Al-Omeiri told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Sobhi and Abdel-Ghaffar played a key role in fighting terrorism over the last four years, and Al-Garhi was instrumental in implementing the IMF’s economic reform programme,” said Omeiri.

Al-Garhi is succeeded by his deputy Mohamed Maait who also played a key role implementing the IMF reforms, including cuts to fuel and electricity subsidies and the floatation of the Egyptian pound.

“Maait has all the statistics and will push forward with economic restructuring,” said Omeiri.

In an interview on 18 June Maait told Al-Ahram that more than 85 per cent of Egypt’s ongoing economic reform programme has been put into effect.

“In the second stage of reforms we aim to transform the subsidy system into cash payments to be paid directly to the most needy,” said Maait.

Referring to the fuel subsidy cuts announced on 16 June Maait said he wanted people to think clearly about whether state subsidies should be directed towards education, healthcare and building low-cost housing units rather than filling petrol tanks.

He explained the next stage of reforms will focus on boosting foreign exchange reserves, cutting the budget deficit, reducing public debt and cutting foreign borrowing.

“We will also aim to generate job opportunities, raise production rates, and increase salaries of government employees to alleviate the burden of price hikes and subsidy cuts,” said Maait.

President Al-Sisi acknowledged in a televised address earlier this month that economic reforms had been “very tough” but promised Egyptians “great achievements in the coming period”.

In a public speech on 12 June the president said “we have to pay the price [of economic restructuring] together.”

Ayman Abul-Ela, parliamentary spokesperson of the Free Egyptians Party, told the Weekly “MPs will work to ensure that the new government does everything possible to safeguard those on limited incomes from the vagaries of economic reform”

He said that while MPs accepted economic reforms were a necessary but bitter pill “the government’s policy statement must tell us how it will intervene to ensure that the poor do not bear the brunt of the reforms.”

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi swore in the new government headed by Madbouli on 14 June. The outgoing cabinet, led by Sherif Ismail, submitted its resignation on 5 June.

Al-Sisi’s appointment of Madbouli, who served as the housing minister in Ismail’s cabinet, was expected. Madbouli, 52, served as interim prime minister from November 2017 to the end of January this year when Ismail was receiving medical treatment abroad.

He was appointed minister of housing in February 2014 in the cabinet of then prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab and kept his post when Ismail was appointed as premier in September 2015.

Madbouli is an architect and urban designer who served as the director of the UN’s HABITAT Regional Office for Arab States from 2012 until 2014. He also served as chairman of Egypt’s General Organisation of Urban Planning from 2009 until 2011.

Since assuming the office of housing minister, Madbouli has overseen a number of projects to build affordable housing and develop new cities, including the New Administrative Capital east of Cairo and New Alamein on the Mediterranean coast.

Madbouli will retain the housing portfolio in addition to heading the cabinet.

The new cabinet includes 12 new ministers out of a total of 33.

The foreign, justice, investment, tourism, supply and planning ministers all retained their positions.

Mohamed Ahmed Zaki was named minister of defence, replacing Sedki Sobhi who held the post for more than four years. Mahmoud Tawfik was appointed minister of interior, replacing Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar.

Article 146 of the constitution allows the president to name the four so-called sovereign ministers — defence, interior, foreign affairs and justice.

Mohamed Zaki, the former commander of the Republican Guard since 2012, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general in January 2017. He played a pivotal role in the June 2013 uprising which toppled former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The new defence minister was born in 1956. He served in the infantry and participated in the campaign to liberate Kuwait in 1991.

The new minister of interior was born in August 1961 in Giza and graduated from the Police Academy in 1981. Tawfik served in several departments within the ministry, including as deputy to the interior minister for national security, before being appointed in October 2017 as chief of the National Security Apparatus.

Tawfik is known for his counter-terrorism initiatives and successful dismantling of terrorist cells.

Former prime minister Sherif Ismail, ex-defence minister Sobhi and ex-interior minister Abdel-Ghaffar have been appointed presidential aides. A presidential decree on 15 June named Ismail the presidential aide for national and strategic projects, Sobhi as aide for defence affairs, and Abdel-Ghaffar as presidential security and counter-terrorism advisor.

Amr Nassar, who served as the secretary-general of the Engineering Export Council of Egypt, was named minister of trade and industry. Assistant Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhi and Assistant Health Minister Hala Zayed were both appointed to head their respective ministries.

Other appointments included new ministers of communications, agriculture, civil aviation, environment, local development and public business sector.

Women were appointed as ministers of the environment and of health, bringing the number of women in the government to eight. Many now expect more women to be appointed as governors, joining Nadia Abdou, currently the only female governor.

Fifteen new deputy minsters, including four women, were also appointed, including at the finance, electricity and housing ministries.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 June 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Strengthening the hand of reformers

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