Egypt’s new cabinet to be dominated by technocrats


Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, left, meets with the minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Hesham Kandil in Cairo. On July 24, Morsi named Hesham Kandil prime minister designate and tasked him with putting together a new Cabinet to replace the current military-appointed one. (Ahmed Mourad/AP)

Egyptian state media disclosed the broad outlines Wednesday of the country’s new cabinet, selections that suggest President Mohamed Morsi is unwilling or unable to assemble the kind of dynamic, politically diverse governing team many voters had hoped for.

The list of 18 nominees released Wednesday includes mostly low-profile technocrats and officials who served under ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The government is expected to announce the complete list of 30 nominees Thursday.

Morsi has come under increasing criticism for taking so long to form a cabinet as labor protests and economic problems have intensified in recent weeks.

The names announced so far include only two figures with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which engineered Morsi’s upset victory in June. The relatively small Brotherhood footprint in the new cabinet suggests that Morsi was wary of the backlash a cabinet stacked with allies would probably have generated from segments of Egyptian society that fear the Islamization of politics.

Prominent figures such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and senior members of the large political parties that emerged after the revolution last year are conspicuously absent from the partial list released by state television and newspapers. Morsi’s recent announcement of his pick for prime minister, former water resources minister Hesham Kandil, was received with dismay and shrugs by Egyptians who had hoped the country’s new leaders would bring some symbolic heft and dazzle to the dawn of democratic rule here.

“If I had to think of the most uninspiring group of people to appoint, I would have come up with the current list,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center. “Those who were looking for Morsi to send a strong message with his cabinet picks are going to be disappointed.”

As expected, the Defense and Interior ministries will continue to be run by senior officials who served under the deposed regime. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the military chief who ran the country after Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, will remain defense minister. Maj. Gen. Ahmed Gamal Eddin, the closest subordinate of the current interior minister, will be tapped to replace his boss.

Eddin’s selection, in particular, angered human rights activists who have called on Morsi to carry out sweeping reforms of a police force that has for decades acted with impunity and, at times, brutality.

“It doesn’t bode well for police reform that Morsi’s new interior minister was the outgoing minister’s closest aide,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights activist who heads the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The new cabinet will include at least six holdovers from the cabinet of the current prime minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, who was appointed by the country’s powerful military council. They include the only two presumptive female cabinet members announced so far: Nadia Zakhary, minister of scientific research, and Nagwa Khalil, minister of insurance and social affairs. Also keeping their posts are Finance Minister Mumtaz al-Said and Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.

Among the new cabinet members yet to be nominated is the minister of planning and international cooperation, a key figure who serves as a gatekeeper of foreign aid.

U.S. officials were relieved by reports last week that the incumbent, Faiza Abou el-Naga, who oversaw Egypt’s crackdown on U.S.-funded pro-democracy organizations, has said she will not remain in the post.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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