Last Tuesday saw Egypt’s new cabinet sworn in. The cabinet comes in the wake of the overthrow of the one-year-old Islamist political rule at the head of which sat the deposed president Muhammad Mursi.
The 34-member cabinet looks set to mark a new, liberal phase for Egypt. It is a cabinet of technocrats who have reputations for being expert in their fields, and it includes three women and three Copts. No Islamist are among the cabinet members, which brings on criticism from sources that advocate inclusion of the Islamists. Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour denied the Islamists had been excluded; he said they were offered cabinet posts but had rejected them. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the largest Islamist group in Egypt to which the ousted president Mursi belongs and the rule of which he had worked to entrench, said the new government was illegitimate and refused to have any part in it. The other Islamist party, the Salafi al-Nour, said it was not interested in cabinet posts, but vetoed or approved specific appointments.
The new cabinet led by the interim prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi, a respected 76-year-old economist, faces the daunting task of getting the country up and running after a year of severe mismanagement that depleted reserves and sent the economy in free fall. It should also lead Egypt through a democratic transition to full civilian rule through a new constitution, parliament and president. The task is complicated by the vow of the MB to wage a war of terror in Egypt till Mursi is reinstated, a move which the vast majority of Egyptians absolutely reject, and see as putting back the arms of the clock.
The new cabinet comes on the wings of the change of regime brought about on 3 July by the 33-million-strong nationwide public protest which began on 30 June and was backed by the army. On 4 July the interim president Mansour was sworn in and drew a plan to bring Egypt to full civilian rule in some nine months. With the new technocrat cabinet now in place, Egyptians feel assured that the wheels of a new democracy are rolling. Watani decided to sound the people on the street on how they viewed the new cabinet.
“I like what I see”
Ezzat Abdel-Rahman, a young taxi driver, sees that the new cabinet is not to be envied. “They need all the help they can get,” Abdel-Rahman said. “Where should they even start? With controlling the conditions that led to the horrendous road and train accidents, the road blocks, the garbage pile-up, or the water and power shortages? It looks like the Mursi regime was determined to make us live through hell. We haven’t had power outages to speak of since he fell.
“I had a good look at the resumes of the cabinet ministers, and I like what I see; they are all well-experienced, honourable persons. No more favouritism to the MB or to anyone else.”
How about the number of women or Copts? Watani prodded, reminding him that, for the first time, the Health Minister was a woman, Maha al-Rabbat. “No matter at all,” he said, “as long as they’re competent. Don’t we have women doctors and nurses? And they’re among the best, and the gentlest. As to the Copts, someone like Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour who has been appointed Minister of Trade and Industry is himself a man of experience who has established projects in which hundreds of Muslim and Coptic men and women work.” When Mursi came to office a year ago, Abdel-Rahman bitterly noted, “we thought he was a righteous Muslim who would stand by the poor, but this turned out to be a silly myth. Now, we look forward to people of experience of manage the country.”
Worth a hundred men
Afaf Wadie, who is now in retirement but was formerly a senior executive at the Supreme Council for Culture smiled as she explained it was normal for her to focus on the Culture Ministry, where she had always worked. “The Culture Ministry is very special because it deals with are writers, intellectuals and artists whose freedoms can’t be restricted. If a culture minister is not on par with the cultural elite, matters come to a standstill. The ministry was lucky to have had during its history a string of highly-qualified ministers who managed it well, that is until the Mursi regime last May appointed the MB minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz who made it his business to expel all the liberal staff, including the head of the Cairo Opera House Ines Abdel-Dayem, which aroused a wave of wild protest among the intellectuals. But that was short-lived; 30 June came along and changed everything. Abdel-dayem, too, is back to her old position.
“Saber Arab, the new culture minster is the perfect man for the job. He had served as culture minister before, in 2012, and understands very well that the nature of work there is about creativity and inspiration, not about dealing with employees.”
Ms Wadie expressed optimistic at the new cabinet of technocrats, and her happiness at the women ministers who, she insisted, “could be worth a hundred men.”
“We never saw a woman as health minister in Egypt before,” Sabry Abdel-Malek and his wife Aida Armani, both medical doctors said. “The new minister, Maha al-Rabbat, is a health care specialist, meaning she will probably focus on basic health care, a universal demand. And as a woman, we expect she would focus on the health care offered to children, especially in the pre-school stage.” Armani insisted women were in a better position than men to care about health.
Both Armani and Abdel-Malek saw that the presence of three Copts in the cabinet was a strong indication that the ministers were selected basing on competence and qualifications, not identity. “This is a very positive attitude,” Abdel-Malek said. Armani made a comment about talk of merging ministries which, she said, she strongly recommended. There is redundancy in several portfolios, she said, such as in case of the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade and that of Trade and Industry.
For his part, Economy Professor Ayman Borai does not expect ‘achievements’ as such by the new cabinet. “This cabinet needs to correct what the previous regime has wrecked,” Dr Borai said. And what with the fine members it includes, he said, it is in a good position to do so. The appointment of Mohamed ElBaradei as presidential advisor for foreign relations is a good choice because he is experienced in that field, especially in times of crisis. And the fact that no transportation minister has yet been appointed is an indication that nothing is done in haste, since we have complicated problems related to transportation, roads and bridges, so we need someone qualified to handle these problems.
Change in the air
Nagwa al-Husseini, a hairdresser, said she senses the change in the air, and likes it. “I was happy with the first speech given by our new president Adly Mansour. I felt he was wise and insightful. I meet all types of people in my job, and I feel we need wisdom at this stage, after the absurdity and willfulness we had had to live through under Mursi.” Husseini commented on the inclusion of three Coptic ministers in the cabinet with: “What’s wrong with Copts? Or Jews for that matter? Jews had lived in Egypt and greatly enhanced industrial and commercial life. We were the losers when they left. Let us appreciate the Egyptians for what they are, be they Muslim, Copt, or Jew. We need to restore a happy Egypt that goes around without niqab (the full face veil). If higab represents modesty, niqab is stupidity”.
“This cabinet is perfect!” said a happy Ahmed Osman, a student of Applied Arts. “The appointment of Taher Abu-Zeid as Sports Minister is excellent, and shows the cabinet cares about the interests of sports and youth.”
How about the female and Coptic ministers in the cabinet? Watani asked. “Why not?” Osman said. “Aren’t women the most important members of the family? They care for every person, young and old; they organise everything, and they manage the family’s health and budget. So why should it be strange that they are asked to help run the country? I’ll bet that the day will come when we’ll get a woman as finance minister. The IMF has a woman at its head.”
“As to Copts, they have been persecuted for so long. Yet they were with us side by side during the revolution. Now they have to share in the honour and responsibility of running the country. This is no time to talk of Muslim or Christian; it’s time to go to work, hard work.”
19 July 2013
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