Egypt appoints 9 ministers in limited reshuffle

CAIRO (AP) — Nine new Egyptian ministers joined President Mohammed Morsi’s Cabinet on Tuesday, including three members of his Muslim Brotherhood, in a reshuffle that officials said was aimed at addressing the country’s financial woes and securing a much-needed international loan.

Morsi supporters claim he wants to reach out to other political blocs, yet the Cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to ease Egypt’s political polarization. The opposition complained that they were not consulted on the appointments, and said they would only further the “Brotherhood-ization” of Morsi’s government. Two of the nine new ministers hail from the Brotherhood political party.

The latest reshuffle — the second since Morsi took office in June last year — increases to 11 the number of Brotherhood members in key posts in the 36-seat Cabinet. The previous reshuffle in January nearly doubled the number of Brotherhood members from five to eight. The Cabinet also includes a handful of Islamists and allies of the Brotherhood.

In a statement, Morsi’s office said the Cabinet changes were made to “inject new blood,” including young ministers, at a time when improving the nation’s economic performance and security are a priority for the government. The youngest minister in the reshuffled Cabinet is the new investment minister, 35-year Yehia Hamed, a former Morsi aide and member of the Brotherhood.

“The challenges Egypt faces require concerted and integrated efforts,” Morsi’s statement said.

His statement called on all to avoid wasting time and look forward to the future to achieve quick results for the Egyptian people.

“The world we live in has no room except for the strong,” the statement said.

The new Planning and International Cooperation Ministry is now led by Amr Darag, a top leader in the Brotherhood. The third minister affiliated with the Brotherhood is Agriculture Minister Ahmed el-Gizawy, who headed the Freedom and Justice party’s agriculture committee.

There are new finance and oil ministers, but the reshuffle did not affect security posts like the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil kept his job despite calls for his ouster from liberals and leftists as well as some Islamists.

Ahmed Suleiman is the new minister of justice. According to biographies published in the media, Suleiman was a member of a group opposing a judicial boycott on a controversial Morsi-backed constitutional referendum in December. Morsi’s government has tangled with the judiciary on several occasions in the past year.

New Finance Minister Fayad Ibrahim is an expert in sukuk, bonds that claim to be compliant with Islamic Shariah law. Morsi’s government is pushing such bonds as a way to attract investment.

Kandil told reporters that the new economic team will build on what the outgoing ministers have accomplished, such as streamlining land investment laws and expediting investment proposals in Egypt’s strategic Suez Canal region and port.

“Change in this phase, we think, will be useful,” he said.

Kandil, however, did not mention Egypt’s negotiations for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which have dragged on for more than a year. The crucial $4.8 billion loan is expected to usher in widely unpopular austerity measures, but could open the door for much needed investment.

Freedom and Justice deputy leader Essam al-Erian told Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr TV network that the most prominent feature of the new reshuffle is the change to the economic portfolio in the Cabinet, a move made to spur negotiations with the IMF.

The London-based consultancy Capital Economics said the reshuffle is a “complete overhaul of the government’s economic team,” which may add “fresh impetus” to the talks with the IMF. The group said, however, that the reshuffle had failed to realize broader political consensus that is needed to get approval on an economic reform package negotiated with the IMF.

“The reshuffle of Egypt’s Cabinet … doesn’t change the bigger picture that achieving support from across the political spectrum for much-needed economic reform will be extremely difficult,” the group said. “After all, the majority of Egyptian politicians will be unwilling to sign up to the widespread reform measures required by the IMF, at least until parliamentary elections are out of the way.”

No date has yet been set for these elections.

Egypt’s economy has been hard hit by more than the two years of political turmoil that followed the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in 2011.

Political polarization has deepened since last year, with Morsi and his Islamist supporters under fire from leftists, liberals and others. Protests, which now regularly turn into deadly clashes, feed the country’s sense of lawlessness and crisis.

“The party understands the difficulties facing the formation of cabinets in transition periods, and that it might not be up to all aspirations,” said Saad el-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. He said the party reached out to other groups because the “challenges facing our nation require collaboration of all efforts to lighten the negative impact of transition periods.”

However, the opposition said the shuffle did not meet its demands. The opposition says it will boycott upcoming parliamentary elections if Morsi does not sack Kandil and form a national unity government along with other conditions.

“Is the new reshuffle a new step toward complete Brotherhood-ization?” asked opposition leader Amr Moussa. The term is used by many Egyptians to indicate their fear that the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to monopolize power in the country. “Wouldn’t it be more effective to take a different step to reflect movement toward partnership and national reconciliation?”

The opposition youth group April 6 called the reshuffle “disappointing.” The group said it failed to include national or Islamist figures from the ultraconservative Salafi groups, which emerged as the second political force in earlier elections after the Brotherhood.

“It’s a sham reshuffle. … The Brotherhood now totally controls the economic portfolio,” Mohammed Adel, a leading member of the group, said in a statement.

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AP Writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed.

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