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What triggered Egypt’s Cabinet reshuffle?

Just six months after the government’s formation, a major Cabinet reshuffle replaced 10 ministers, which raises questions about the state's ability to implement its plans.
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks to the media after the signing ceremony for a deal to build Egypt's first nuclear power plant between Egypt and Russia at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, November 19, 2015. Moscow and Cairo signed an agreement on Thursday for Russia to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt, with Russia extending a loan to Egypt to cover the cost of construction. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh - RTS800T

Ten new ministers were sworn in to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s new Cabinet on March 23, in a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle that came just six months after the government’s formation in September 2015. The new government will still be headed by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, who assumed the premiership following the resignation of the previous Cabinet led by Ibrahim Mehleb.

The Cabinet reshuffle can be traced back to March 13, when Minister of Justice Ahmed al-Zend was asked to step down following his controversial remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.

Transport Minister Saad El Geyoushi was also fired in the wake of a controversial statement made by ministry spokesman Ahmed Ibrahim in February 2016. Ibrahim said that the ministry had hired a multinational company to manage the country’s railway services, citing a “failure at management” by government operators. 

The recent Cabinet reshuffle included the justice, finance, investment, civil aviation, antiquities, manpower, tourism, irrigation and water resources, and the newly established public sector portfolio.

This is the fifth Cabinet reshuffle since June 30, 2013, which raises questions about the state's ability to implement its plans in light of the frequent replacement of ministers.

Gamal Salama, head of the political science department at Suez Canal University, told Al-Monitor, “The Cabinet reshuffle does not affect the [government] plans, since the government has no fixed vision that was disturbed by the change. After all, it is a caretaker government.”

He added, “We are talking about a government of technocrats that does not have a fixed policy. The reason for the change is the weak performance of some ministers.”

The reshuffle came four days before Ismail’s ministerial statement on the government's program before the elected parliament.

This was preceded by meetings between the prime minister and the members of parliament in all Egyptian governorates, in which the parliament members raised their demands and visions prior to the ministerial statement.

Salama did not see any correlation between the reshuffle and the government's position in front of the parliament. “The parliament is not an opposition parliament and is not dissatisfied with the government performance,” he said.

Yet parliament member Khaled Abdel Aziz Shaaban had a differing opinion. “Before the reshuffle, the parliament was dissatisfied with the government’s poor performance when it came to economic policy, due to an increase in the budget deficit, the increase in the US dollar against the Egyptian pound and the lack of a reform vision,” he told Al-Monitor.

He added, “Anger prevailed when a meeting was held between Cairo governorate members of parliament and the prime minister. I think the whole government should be dismissed. Recently, 10 portfolios were changed, but there are other ministries whose performance is unconvincing, such as the ministries of local development, health and education.”

Shaaban asserted that the ministerial change in its current form is not satisfactory to the members of parliament. He added, “I was not happy when I met with Ismail. The constitution guaranteed the MPs the right to change the government's policies, and we will exercise this right, especially as the government program presented to the parliament is mere talk.”

The Egyptian prime minister had presented his ministerial policy statement on March 27. The statement consisted of 79 pages and included seven main sections. Ismail promised to fight corruption, reduce the budget deficit to 8%, cultivate 4 million acres of wheat, turn Egypt into a digital global society and raise the industry growth rate to 8% within two years.

Yusri al-Azbawi, head of the Egyptian political regime program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, believed the new ministerial policy statement will garner the support of most members of parliament.

He told Al-Monitor, “There is a correlation between the government reshuffle and the ministerial statement before the parliament. The reshuffle aims to absorb the anger of the street and please the MPs.”

He attributed the government reshuffle to a “lackluster performance of some ministers, which adversely affected the lives of Egyptians.”

“Most of the sacked ministers are on top of economic and services-related portfolios directly affecting the lives of citizens,” he said.

He believed the new composition of the government will not be criticized soon because, in his view, there is no public pressure on the parliament and the political street is quiet, and strong partisan actors in the parliament did not fiercely attack the ministerial statement or absolutely reject it. “The government will not face significant opposition from the parliament,” he said.

But Ismail’s government had already received a heavy blow from the parliament earlier this year. In January 2016, the members of parliament rejected the Civil Service Law — drawn up by the government to apply its so-called reform of the administrative apparatus of the state — which was rejected by a large number of civil servants.

Azbawi does not believe the ministerial statement could face huge opposition, as happened with the Civil Service Law. He said, “The Civil Service Law was rejected by the people, and a large number of the MPs’ campaigns were based on opposing this law. The new government's statement does not include any item to be rejected by the people.”

It seems that the recent Egyptian Cabinet reshuffle was not triggered by the ministers’ slow implementation of the development strategy, but rather it aims to secure the parliament’s confidence over the government, which raises questions about the existence of a clear government action plan.

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