By Jailan Zayan / AFP
CAIRO: Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf pushed forward with plans for a sweeping cabinet reshuffle on Sunday in a bid to appease protesters angry over the pace of reform.
Sharaf has handed his proposed list of ministers to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for approval, the official MENA news agency reported.
The prime minister, who heads a caretaker government after a revolt toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February, is expected to unveil a new cabinet by Monday that he hopes will end a week-long sit-in in central Cairo.
Egypt stocks rose on Sunday on the cabinet reshuffle announcement, with the main EGX-30 index closing up 3.26 percent at 5263.30 points.
Cabinet sources told AFP that around 20 ministers were to be replaced, but that the portfolios of interior, culture, justice, education and tourism would be unchanged.
State minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass has also offered his resignation, sources said and was replaced by Abdel Fattah El-Banna.
Sharaf began to announce the names of new ministers in trickles on his Facebook page ahead of Monday’s announcement.
Hazem Abdel Azim was named new minister of telecommunications, Moataz Khorshid was appointed minister of higher education, and Ali Zein Al-Abedeen to the post of transport minister. Mohamed Atteya was named local development minister, while Salah El Sayed Youssef Farag, agriculture minister, Amr Hilmi the new health minister Mohamed Kamel as foreign minister and Mohamed Abdel Fadil as endowments minister.
Sharaf chose one of his two newly appointed deputies, Hazem Beblawi, to serve as finance minister, state television reported. Beblawi, a veteran economist, would take over from Samir Radwan.
Late on Saturday, the premier said he had accepted the resignation of foreign minister Mohammed Al-Orabi — criticized for being close to Mubarak — amid pressure to rid the cabinet of old regime figures.
The announcement of Orabi’s resignation on state media came hours after Sharaf appointed Beblawi and Ali Al-Silmi, a leader of the liberal Wafd party, as his deputies.
Word that Al-Silmi will also double as Minister of Investment was not confirmed till press time.
Cabinet also announced that Sharaf had also accepted the resignation of Trade and Industry Minister Samir El-Sayad. His replacement has yet to be announced.
The armed forces Supreme Council also issued a statement on its Facebook page late on Saturday promising to restrict military trials to cases of rape, assaults on police and armed assaults.
One of the protesters’ key demands is an end to military trials of civilians, which have become the norm since Mubarak’s ouster.
But the military’s statement also warned that, while it would respect peaceful protests, it would not stand aside if protests damaged government or private property.
Sharaf has come under fire from dissidents, who once embraced him, for the slow pace of reforms since the revolt and for his limited powers under military rule.
Hundreds of protesters who pitched tents in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square stayed put, although some protesters suspended a hunger strike after negotiations with military representatives, state media reported.
The sit-in in the iconic square, epicentre of the 18-day revolt that overthrew Mubarak, began after tens of thousands of people held a demonstration on July 8 calling for speedier reforms.
They also want an end to what they say are delays in trying former regime officials responsible for killings during the revolt and a coherent transition to civilian rule, which the military has promised after parliamentary and presidential elections.
Beblawi, a former undersecretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, is to oversee economic policy in the new cabinet, MENA reported. Silmi is to handle “democratic transition” issues.
Sharaf, who was appointed premier after demonstrations persuaded the military to sack Mubarak’s cabinet in March, pledged on Friday that “the new ministerial changes are simply the beginning.”
Having already ordered the sacking of hundreds of senior interior ministry officials, Sharaf hopes the new cabinet will satisfy the activists while helping the country recover economically.
Egypt has seen a sharp decline in tourism and increased unemployment since the revolt, and investors remain jittery over sporadic and at times deadly unrest in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Tensions are also mounting between the military, initially hailed for not siding with Mubarak, and groups that spearheaded the revolt.