Swearing-in for Egypt’s new cabinet delayed again

Mubarak trial may be held at Sharm hospital where he receives care.

Mubarak 311 Reuters (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah )
Mubarak 311 Reuters
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah )
The swearing-in ceremony of Egypt’s newly reconfigured cabinet was delayed for a second time Tuesday. The reshuffle is meant to mollify protesters camped out in central Cairo since July 8 demanding faster reforms by the ruling military council and a deeper purge of officials of former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
About 15 new ministers were supposed to take the oath of office on Monday, but the ceremony was delayed when Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was taken to hospital for high blood pressure. The ceremony will be held after Sharaf regains his health and returns to work, cabinet sources said, adding that the swearing-in could be held by the end of the week.
On Monday, state TV said preparations for parliamentary elections will begin on September 18, with the vote overseen by one of the country’s top judges.
“The High Electoral Committee will begin its duties starting on September 18 and will be headed by the president of the appeals court in Cairo,” an army source confirmed.
The source did not say what the election preparations would entail, but earlier this month another army source said it would start with candidate registrations followed by an official campaigning period.
The actual ballot could be put off as late as November.
The bulk of the new cabinet members were chosen expressly for their lack of ties to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. Incoming foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, a surprising but relatively safe choice, is a career diplomat who has served in Washington and Saudi Arabia, but has been out of government service for nearly a decade while representing Egypt at the World Bank. Amr is Cairo’s third foreign minister in less than six months.
The formerly outlawed Wafd party stands to be the reshuffle’s greatest beneficiary, locking up a number of important posts including the tourism and information ministries.
Several weeks ago the party announced it would join forces with the influential Muslim Brotherhood in a bid to forge a united front in the post-revolution government.
Ahmed Ezz el-arab, vice chairman of the putatively liberal and secular party, made waves earlier this month with a conspiracy theory-laced tirade of Holocaust denial and 9/11 revisionism on the sidelines of a human rights conference in honor of the late US congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups were largely kept out of the reshuffle.
A week ago the Brotherhood publicly rejected any idea of joining the new cabinet, with Saad El-Katatni, head of the movement’s Freedom and Justice Party, telling Al-Ahram newspaper, “It would be a big loss to join any government at the present time – it is better to wait until a new parliament is elected and a new prime minister selected.”
Leaders of the harder-line Salafi groups struck a more belligerent note. “The new cabinet reshuffle was mainly aimed to appease the protesters in Tahrir Square,” Salafi leaders told the daily, calling for a “Friday of Sharia” to protest the move.
“The new cabinet reshuffle and the document on supraconstitutional principles go against the will of the majority of Egyptians,” they said. “It is just aimed to satisfy the secularists and liberals, and this is very bad for recovering stability.”
A peaceful transition will depend on how effectively the military rulers can manage pressure from the street for faster reforms and keep a lid on social tensions made worse by an economic crisis.
“What is needed is to restore the trust and the credibility of the government. The basic problem facing us now in the short run is restoring security; not just security but the perception of security,” Hazem el- Beblawi, due to replace Samir Radwan as finance minister, told Reuters on Tuesday. Radwan is widely seen as a pragmatist with a free-market outlook.
Activists pushing for a swift move to civilian rule have called the reshuffle too little, too late, saying it fails to purge the government of former Mubarak allies.
Sources said Monday that the deposed president may be tried next month in the Red Sea resort where he is in hospital, rather than in Cairo as originally planned. The move could anger protesters who say the army wants to shield its former commander.
Mubarark, 83, has been in hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh since April when he was initially questioned. He has been detained there and charged with abusing power and killing protesters in the uprising that unseated him on February 11.
Amid their discontent over the pace of political reform, protesters are also frustrated with the slow pace of the trial of a man they blame for killing more than 840 protesters in the uprising and creating a state that concentrated power and wealth in the hands of an elite.
“It is likely Mubarak’s trial will be held in a criminal court in Sharm el-Sheikh, which is being set up now by the Justice Ministry for the trial,” a judicial source said. “Should his health condition get worse, the trial will be held in the hospital where Mubarak now is,” the source said.
Many ordinary Egyptians are skeptical about Mubarak’s illness, seeing it as a ruse so the ruling army can avoid a humiliating public trial for the war veteran.
Reuters contributed to this report