The cabinet reshuffle that took place last Saturday came as surprise for two reasons. It included a larger number of ministries than had been expected at 13, and the changes were outside of the economic portfolios that had been the subject of speculation in the light of the current economic conditions.
I shall try here to provide a brief analysis of the reshuffle by dividing it into four sections.
First, there were the “necessary changes” that included the ministries of health, education, and immigration. It had become necessary to fill the post of minister of health, vacant since last October due to the former minister’s special circumstances. With the selection of Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar as the new minister, the position of minister of higher education, his earlier post, became vacant. Finally, the Ministry of Immigration needed a new minister after the departure of Nabila Makram due to personal circumstances. She departs accompanied by the prayers and well wishes of all those who know or have dealt with her.
Second, there were the changes in the economic group of ministries. Contrary to expectations, these were limited and included three new ministers to take over the portfolios of trade and industry, the public business sector, and labour. In my opinion, the change at the Ministry of Trade and Industry in particular had been anticipated and hoped for. It will be welcomed in industrial and economic circles, especially since the newcomer, Ahmed Samir Saleh, combines practical experience with a parliamentary background.
Third, in the area of public services the only ministry affected by the reshuffle was the Ministry of Education. There have been growing complaints by the public and parliament alike about the policies pursued by Tarek Shawki over the past five years targeting a radical reform of the education system. Was the experiment unsuccessful and the efforts made in vain? Or was more time required for the completion of the reform? I leave the answer to specialists in the field and will content myself with expressing my appreciation for the efforts made by the former minister and asking whether the new minister, Reda Hegazi, will follow the policies that he played a role in formulating and implementing at the ministry or whether he will now change course.
My heart goes out to the students and parents who always pay the price for such changes and experiments.
Fourth, there were the changes of a sovereign nature because the portfolios here are linked to national security and therefore are not usually subject to public evaluation. They include the Ministries of Military Production, Aviation, and Administrative Development because of its supervision of regional and other governors. The Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources should also be included in this group of ministries because of the controversy over the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile in Ethiopia, which also falls under national security.
There remain the Ministries of Culture and Tourism. The distinguished artist Enas Abdel-Dayem, a symbol of the defiance of Egyptian intellectuals when the then Muslim Brotherhood government sought to oust her from the presidency of the Cairo Opera House in 2013, has left the Ministry of Culture. Egypt’s cultural and artistic community united in her support in 2013, and she has won the love and respect of everyone who has dealt with her. I imagine that she has remained a true artist at heart and that she has now preferred to leave public office and to return to her artistic pursuits and her audience.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the reshuffle was the change at the head of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, given the reputation of the outgoing minister, Khaled El-Enany, for being energetic and active over recent years. He has succeeded in opening or re-opening many heritage sites and museums, whether new or ones that had been subject to terrorist threats or looting, and he has supervised the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) project on the Pyramids Plateau that is supposed to be opening soon.
In the light of these achievements, especially during a difficult period of declining tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war, I would hope that he is granted the proper appreciation. However, his replacement by Ahmed Issa may explain the purpose of the change, as the new minister comes from a distinguished banking background and is an executive at the Commercial International Bank known for his efficiency and experience.
This could indicate that the intention is to view the Ministry of Tourism from an economic perspective, important given its role in overseeing this economically very significant sector. But there is also the more traditional question of whether antiquities should remain in the same ministry as tourism or whether they should be independent or attached to the Ministry of Culture where they might not be subject to the same economic approach.
In short, though the cabinet reshuffle included many portfolios, it will most likely not involve major changes in policy. Its most important message is that the economic trajectory will in general continue on the current path, albeit with additional attention to the industry and tourism sectors – that is unless I am missing something.
* This article also appears in today’s edition of the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.