CAIRO - Egypt’s prime minister-designate pledged on Thursday that his new 35-member Cabinet would be a “people’s government” and called on Egyptians to rally behind it and the nation’s newly elected president in the face of “grave challenges.”
The U.S.-educated Hesham Kandil also confirmed that Hosni Mubarak’s defence minister of 20 years, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, will retain the post. Tantawi led the military generals who took over from Mubarak when the president stepped down nearly 18 months following a popular uprising. The new government, due to be sworn in later Thursday, is the first since Mohammed Morsi, a longtime Muslim Brotherhood leader, was inaugurated as Egypt’s first freely elected president. The new Cabinet’s line-up appeared aimed at allaying worries that Islamists will monopolize power in the government - three Brotherhood members were given ministries and several members of the outgoing, military-backed government will retain their posts, including the foreign and finance ministers.
Still, the line-up fell far short of the unity government that Morsi had initially said he would put together, bringing together political factions. Instead, the members were largely technocrats. And many will be looking to see how many of the new ministers, while not Brotherhood members, are Islamists or sympathetic to the movement to gain a real picture of the government’s diversity. “We are all Egyptians in the Arab Republic of Egypt. The coming period is not easy, to say the least, and we are all in the same boat,” Kandil told a news conference. “This is the people’s government, it does not belong to this or that trend.”
The new government comes at a time when tensions are rising over the country’s tenuous security, recent sectarian violence and growing popular discontent over issues such as widespread power and water outages as well as shortages. The military generals who took over from Mubarak in February 2011 handed over power to Morsi but not before they stripped the new president of significant powers and declared themselves as the country’s legislative authority after dissolving the Brotherhood-dominated parliament. The military also has control over the process of drafting Egypt’s new constitution. Morsi’s choice of Kandil, a devout Muslim reported by some Egyptian media to be sympathetic to the Brotherhood, has angered the liberals and leftists who launched the uprising against Mubarak. In his 40s, he maintains that he has no formal links to any of the country’s Islamist political parties.
The radical Islamist Al-Nour party, which supported Morsi in his presidential bid, decided to boycott the government after it was only offered the environment portfolio. It had wanted the communication, local development and business sector ministries, according to a party spokesman. The Cabinet lineup includes only two women - one of them also a Christian - and signaled Morsi’s failure to give women and minority Christians more than the token representation they had under Mubarak’s 29-year authoritarian rule.
It also does not include any of the iconic youth figures of the 18-day, anti-Mubarak uprising. Still, Kandil sought to gain the goodwill of the secular, pro-reform groups behind the revolt, saying his government wanted to realize its slogan: “Bread, freedom and social justice.” He acknowledged that he was abroad when the uprising began Jan. 25, 2011. Brotherhood members were given the key ministry posts of higher education and housing. A third Brotherhood member was named minister of state for youth. The new government comes to office during one of the worst bouts of unrest since the days and weeks that immediately followed Mubarak’s Feb. 11, 2011 ouster.
Sectarian violence in the past week in Dahshour village south of Cairo saw a Muslim mob torching Christian homes and damaging the local church, which forced many Christian families to flee the village Wednesday. A Muslim injured in clashes died of his wounds on Tuesday, stoking the anger of Muslims. Lengthy power and water outages in Cairo and across the nation of some 82 million people have been sending thousands to the streets to protest daily. In many cases, protesters cut off roads or attacked government offices. The outages have deepened the suffering of Egypt’s mainly Muslim population, coinciding with the dawn-to-dusk fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year falls during the scorching July and August heat. During Ramadan, devout Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and other worldly pleasures.
In other violence, mobs angered by poor quality of medical care given to their sick relatives, have repeatedly attacked staff at outpatient wards of government hospitals. The popular discontent has spread to the gates of Morsi’s presidential palace in Cairo’s leafy suburb of Heliopolis where hundreds gather every day to express a wide range of grievances or to demand jobs, better medical care or housing. Morsi opened two offices to receive citizens’ complaints. The offices attracted thousands who hoped the new president will redress perceived injustices or meet their demands, but hope was soon replaced by despair when nothing was done and some applicants returned to protest.
Egypt’s economy is also sliding fast, with more than half of foreign currency reserves wiped out in the last 18 months, and tourism, a mainstay of the economy, wildly fluctuating to reflect unrest in the country. Kandil said security and the economy were his top priorities but gave no specific plans on how he plans to handle either. -