By Samer Al-Atrush /AFP
CAIRO: New ministers in a sweeping reshuffle of Egypt’s cabinet took their oaths before the military ruler on Thursday, as the prime minister sought to appease protesters over the pace of reform.
“The new ministers in the government of (Prime Minister) Essam Sharaf took their oaths… in front of the commander of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi,” the official MENA news agency reported.
Roughly half of the ministers in the reshuffled cabinet are new.
The changed line-up was meant to take office on Monday but the ceremony was delayed amid wrangling that led to Sharaf’s brief hospitalization with exhaustion.
Sharaf had hoped the new cabinet would mollify activists who have been camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square since July 8, but they have rejected the new line-up, which retains several ministers they want sacked.
“This government does not in any shape express our aspirations for the revolution,” said Tareq Al-Khouli, a leader of the April 6 Youth Movement and co-organizer of the sit-in.
According to a list published on MENA, several controversial ministers kept their posts, including two appointed under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Electricity Minister Hassan Yunis and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Aboul Naga.
But Mubarak’s environment minister, Maged George, the only remaining Coptic Christian in the cabinet, has been replaced by Maged Ilyas Ghattas, another Copt, according to MENA.
“We don’t understand why they are being so obstinate about keeping former Mubarak party members, rather than replacing them with respectable people,” Al-Khouli said, adding the sit-in would continue.
Activists have called for a mass demonstration on Friday, dubbing it the “Decisive Friday”, while hardline Islamist groups say they are organizing a counter-demonstration for “stability.”
The protesters wanted Sharaf to replace Justice Minister Abdel Aziz Al-Gindi, whom they accused of delaying trials of former regime officials, including Mubarak himself.
Mansour El-Essawy, the interior minister protesters wanted fired, also kept his post.
New ministers have indicated their government would listen to activists’ demands, with the new foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, telling Al-Jazeera television it was a “government of the revolution.”
The deputy premier for politics, Ali Al-Silmi, told an Egyptian newspaper he wanted to end privatization, a policy for which Mubarak was praised by foreign investors but criticized at home.
“Enough privatization, especially after the end of the former regime which wanted to dissolve the public sector,” Al-Masry al-Youm quoted Silmi as saying.
No minister for antiquities was named. Sharaf’s first choice, Islamic relics expert Abdel Fatah Al-Banna, came under fire shortly after his appointment was announced on Monday.
Former state minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass, known for his trademark fedora style hat and explosive temper, called the shuffle “a mess.”
“I don’t want to be involved in it,” Hawass, who was close to the Mubaraks, told AFP.
State media reported that the ministry itself, which was created only in Mubarak’s final year, was being abolished. The council of ministers said the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which Hawass headed before being named minister, will be directly under its authority.
Hazem Abdel-Azim, nominated by Sharaf earlier this week for the telecom ministry, was removed Wednesday night for what some reports labeled as “security reasons.”
An online report had claimed Abdel-Azim had ties with an Israeli company as a representative of an Egyptian IT company, which he denied. Many activists saw this as a deliberate smear campaign against Abdel-Azim, who was hailed for supporting and taking part of the uprising that toppled Mubarak and for his outspoken opposition to the former regime. He was also expected to make sweeping reforms in the ministry and the telecom industry.
Mohamed Salem, a former military officer and a graduate of the Military Institute of Technology, was took oath as telecom minister.
Ahmed Fikry was initially named for the trade and industry ministry, but reportedly pulled out for conflict of interest citing his private business in the automotive industry. Mahmoud Eissa took oath on Thursday for this portfolio.
The cabinet said it would issue a law soon allowing “honest” businessmen to hold official posts but with strict legal regulations. This conflict of interest was one of the main criticisms of the cabinet in place in for the last seven years of Mubarak’s rule.
Named deputy PM, Hazem El-Biblawi was also sworn in as finance minister. He would also oversee the investment portfolio.
Amr Helmy took oath for the health ministry; Ibrahim Sabry for military production; Lotfi Kamal for civil aviation; Salah Farag for agriculture; Ali Zein El-Abedine Heikal for transport; Moataz Khorshid for higher education; Hisham Qandil for irrigation and water resources; Mohamed Abdel Fadil El-Qossi for religious endowments; and Mohamed Atia for local development.
MENA reported that Tantawi, who served as Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades, tasked the new cabinet with “quickly returning stability, calm and security and to confront any attempt to toy with the country’s security.”
He also called on the cabinet to prepare for parliamentary elections, most likely in November, and presidential elections and to “scientifically plan for achieving the demands of the revolution.”
It was the second cabinet to take office in the face of protests since a nationwide revolt overthrew Mubarak in February.
The former president is now under arrest on murder and corruption charges in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, undergoing treatment for a heart condition.
Sharaf’s cabinet was sworn in weeks after the strongman’s resignation on Feb. 11, after mass protests persuaded the ruling military to sack Mubarak’s last cabinet. –Additional reporting by Daily News Egypt.