Islamists In Egypt Strengthen Their Grip

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi swore in new cabinet ministers on Tuesday in a shuffle of his government that strengthened the position of the Muslim Brotherhood in key ministries and provoked complaints from the nation’s disparate opposition.

Members of the opposition had demanded that Mr. Morsi form a more inclusive government—one including liberals, moderates, Coptic Christians and women—ahead of parliamentary elections due to take place this year. They also sought the removal of Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, who is viewed by his critics as lacking political experience and charisma.

But Mr. Kandil retained his post in the shuffle, helping to form the new cabinet that includes 10 officials belonging to the ruling Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Eight of 35 ministers in the previous government were FJP members.

Many of the cabinet’s non-FJP ministers are also seen as allied with the president and the Brotherhood.

No opposition members were named to the cabinet. The ministers of information and education, both Muslim Brotherhood members, retained their posts, as did the controversial interior minister, whose ouster had been sought by opponents.

“We repeatedly requested from the president a neutral government to oversee the upcoming parliamentary elections, but today we saw more Muslim Brotherhood members being added,” said a spokesman for Egypt’s main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front.

The shuffle also removed two ministers—both unaffiliated with the FJP—who had been closely involved in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a $4.8 billion loan to prop up Egypt’s ailing economy.

The new minister for planning and international cooperation, Amr Darrag, is a senior member of the FJP. The new finance minister is Fayyad Abdel Moniem, an Islamic finance professor who isn’t affiliated with the ruling party.

Mr. Morsi and his previous cabinet made several efforts to craft overhauls that would unlock the IMF funds. But members of his FJP party have resisted plans to cut Egypt’s subsidies on fuel and food—spending that many party members see as necessary to retain order on the country’s streets, and that critics call an unsustainable drain on the country’s shrinking foreign-currency reserves.

The two appointments would mean that IMF negotiations would essentially start afresh, which could signal a new impetus for the talks, according to a report issued Tuesday by forecasters at Capital Economics in London. But without political consensus for cuts to the subsidy regime, a quick breakthrough in the talks seems unlikely, the group’s report added.

Sherif Hadara, former chairman of General Egyptian Petroleum Corp., was appointed as the country’s new petroleum minister. Yehia Hamed, a staunch supporter of Mr. Morsi, was appointed as investment minister.

The Brotherhood’s tighter grip on government was also reflected in the appointment of Ahmed Suleiman, a senior FJP member, as minister of justice. Since Mr. Morsi’s inauguration last June, the president has replaced two justice ministers amid demands from Brotherhood rank-and-file to “cleanse” the judiciary of former regime members who were seen to be aligned with ousted leader Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Kandil assigned the post of legal affairs minister to Hatem Begato, who oversaw elections the last two parliamentary and presidential elections. His appointment comes at a critical time as Mr. Morsi attempts to win over the judiciary system, which has been a staunch opponent of the Islamist president and his Muslim Brotherhood party.

No women were included in the cabinet shuffle, a move that further angered female activists.

“This [shuffle] will rekindle the coming wave of the Egyptian revolution,” said Bothaina Kamel, a staunch critic of the government who stood as Egypt’s first female presidential candidate in last year’s elections.

Wall Street Journal

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