CAIRO — After months of discussion and after numerous candidates declined to serve, Egypt has nine new Cabinet members and two fewer ministries. Parliament unanimously approved the nominees Feb. 14, and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi swore in the ministers Feb. 16.
The International Cooperation Ministry and the Investment Ministry were merged and will be headed by Sahar Nasr. The embattled Supply Ministry was merged with the Trade and Industry Ministry; Ali al-Moselhy will head the new Supply and Trade Ministry.
The government of Prime Minister Sharif Ismail has been widely criticized in the media, so much so that Sisi had announced Jan. 16, during a meeting with the editors-in-chief of national newspapers, that the reshuffle was imminent. “We will fix what needs to be fixed and improve performance,” Sisi said.
Securing new Cabinet members was a lengthy and difficult task. Ismail told Middle East News Agency on Jan. 19 that many potential Cabinet candidates had declined to serve, especially in some much-criticized ministries.
That reluctance coincided with reports indicating high corruption rates in some service ministries, particularly the Supply Ministry and the Health Ministry, during the past six months. A fact-finding committee formed by parliament to investigate corruption in the Supply Ministry issued a report in August that estimated state budget losses from a wheat scandal at 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($60.6 million).
Parliamentary sources told Innfrad news website that a number of candidates for education minister also declined that post, in light of the large number of tasks entrusted to this ministry and the recent scandals it is facing, such as ones involving leaked exams and a textbook shortage.
Ikram Badr al-Din, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “Some candidates are refusing the ministerial portfolio when it comes to service ministries, since these positions are exposed to harsh criticism ... by the public.”
He explained that a minister in most cases lacks sufficient power, and whenever there is a shortcoming in any of the services provided to the citizens, the media launches a severe attack on that minister. “This scared off numerous candidates,” he said.
“The service ministries are the most rejected ones [by candidates], given their nature and their direct relation to citizens’ living requirements. These ministries are associated with crises such as rising prices [of food and other supplies] in November and the Supply Ministry’s role in this crisis. A crisis also erupted between pharmacists and the Health Ministry due to the rising price of medicines," he said. "In most cases, the ministers were blamed and held solely accountable for these crises” by the public and the media.
Gamal Shiha, chairman of parliament’s Education Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The rejection of service ministries is not something new, especially in recenty years. Many ministers have had different reasons to decline these positions, such as avoiding criticism, low salaries or personal reasons. Therefore, it is difficult to have a clear idea on the reasons behind this.”
Rafaat al-Saeed, chairman of the advisory board of the National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagamoa), suggested another reason it might be difficult to fill some posts: The terms tend to be short.
The Cabinet was reshuffled in March 2016, just months after the government was formed in September 2015.
“From 2011 until today, there have been about 425 ministers who took office and then resigned. Anyway, the current government is not expected to last long, even after these latest Cabinet reshuffles, especially since a minister would remain in his post for an average of about six months only. This instability in this position makes any candidate reluctant to accept it," Saeed said.
He also cited the amount of criticism that can come with the posts.
“Ministers are afraid to address or confront people’s demands, especially with regard to some basic services. Service ministries are being attacked and criticized by some television channels, which makes things even more complicated,” he added.
In the same vein, Gamal Zahran, head of the political science department at Port Said University, told Al-Monitor, “Some candidates are declining ministerial positions because of the government’s performance in the last period."
Egypt is in the middle of an economic crisis, and its youths face an unemployment rate of more than 30%.
Some parliamentarians have complained because Health Minister Ahmed Emad el-Din Rady retained his post. Sources close to Tahrir news said Rady remained in his position because several university professors and prominent physicians declined offers for the job.
During the parliament session, Ismail said that “around 15 or 16 candidates” had declined the position. Some candidates expressed concern about facing criticism, while others said they were concerned about handling confidential dossiers related to the ministry’s work.
Egyptian Streets published the list of new ministers who were sworn in.