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Egyptian government to reshuffle cabinet in effort to quell protests

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CAIRO — Egypt’s finance and foreign ministers resigned over the weekend ahead of a sweeping cabinet reshuffle the government is carrying out to appease an increasingly restless public.

The expected exit of more than half of the Egyptian cabinet’s members comes amid complaints that the interim military rulers have been slow to enact meaningful reforms. Activists say that the generals have failed to dismantle the power structure that remained largely intact when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.

“We all share a sense that a large number of the cabinet members are not supportive of the revolution,” said prominent activist Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He cited the government’s prohibition on labor strikes, its failure to reform the infamous police forces and the anemic state of the welfare system.

Egyptian media outlets have reported that as many as 15 ministers could be replaced by Monday.

Meanwhile, Farid el-Deeb, Mubarak’s attorney, said Sunday that the former president had suffered a stroke and was in a coma. Hospital officials denied the assertion. “Mubarak’s condition remains stable and he falls into coma occasionally, so nothing is new in his condition,” a doctor at Sharm el-Sheikh International Hospital told the Reuters news agency.

Mubarak, 83, has been hospitalized in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh since April.

The cabinet reshuffle is likely to leave many Egyptians unsatisfied, however, because the justice and interior ministers, among the most divisive figures in the government, are expected to survive the purge, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

As protests have intensified in recent weeks, activists have been calling for the dismissal of both ministers, citing the sluggish pace of the prosecutions of Mubarak and other officials from his regime. The Interior Ministry remains a lightning rod; activists say it has done a poor job of holding abusive police officials responsible.

Protesters have increasingly lashed out at the military leaders, who just months ago were hailed as heroes for siding with the revolutionaries. On Saturday, a general who went to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to meet with demonstrators left amid boos and jeers.

Outgoing Finance Minister Samir Radwan told Reuters that policymaking had become erratic in the months that followed the sudden fall of Mubarak.

Radwan recently negotiated a $3 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund that would have eased some of the cash-strapped government’s most pressing needs. Last month, though, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces scrapped the deal, saying the country could do without foreign aid.

“People don’t know what they want,” Radwan was quoted as having told Reuters. “Do they want increased expenditure and no borrowing from abroad? Everybody has suddenly become an expert on financial policy. That is not an atmosphere conducive to efficient work.”

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Sunday appointed Hazem el-Beblawi to serve as deputy prime minister for economic affairs and finance minister. Sharaf appointed a second deputy prime minister, Ali al-Selmy, to oversee political development and democratic transition. Selmy will be tasked with building democratic institutions as Egypt gears up for parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place in the fall.

The appointments follow the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Yehia el-Gamal, who stepped down last week. Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Orabi, who was a veteran diplomat in the Mubarak regime, resigned Saturday, after less than a month in office.

Egypt experts said it was difficult to assess whether the cabinet changes would placate protesters. Although Sharaf is the nominal civilian head of the country, the generals who assumed power after Mubarak’s ouster wield near-absolute authority.

“It is not clear how much power cabinet ministers have in the current situation or whether their replacement will help satisfy protesters’ specific demands,” said Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based expert at the International Crisis Group.

Adel Hammouda, editor in chief of the independent Egyptian newsweekly El Fagr, called the cabinet changes superficial.

The military council holds the true power and has refused to accept the prime minister’s resignation, he said.

“They want a weak government so they can control it,” Hammouda said. “We have the same regime. We have a higher authority that’s silent as the demands in the street are escalating and a government in the middle making weak decisions.”

Special correspondent Sulafeh Munzir al-Shami and staff writer Leila Fadel contributed to this report.

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