05/08/2013, 00.00
EGYPT

Morsi appoints nine Islamists to key ministries

The controversial decision is met with criticism, including from the president's Salafist allies. Justice, Economy and Finance ministries are among the departments reshuffled. For the first time, the Ministry of Antiquities will be run by an expert in Islamic culture, and by not an archaeologist. Journalist André Azzam talks about the first effects of the Islamisation of government. Ordinary Egyptians increasingly hate Morsi.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Justice, culture, economy and religion are key areas now under the direct or indirect control of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yesterday, President Mohamed Morsi presented the members of his new cabinet, giving nine ministries to figures affiliated with the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), including Finance, Investment, Justice and Culture. Hisham Kandil, a technocrat, remains prime minister. The new ministers were sworn in at the presidential palace.

The cabinet shuffle has proven controversial though. Pro-democracy parties and secularist groups view the new cabinet as further proof of the Muslim Brotherhood consolidating its hold on power. Unexpectedly, several pro-government Salafist MPs also criticised the president's action, calling it a partisan cabinet with a technocratic veneer.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Egyptian journalist André Azzam said that the president chose the new cabinet members for their loyalty, not their abilities. "He wants to change the country," he said, "but until now has only been able to boost hatred against himself among ordinary Egyptians."

The Finance portfolio went to Fayyad Abdel-Moneim, a specialist in Islamic finance and a member of the Freedom and Justice Party. Yehia Hamed, the new Investment minister, is a prominent Brotherhood member. Ahmed Suleiman, who is close to the Islamist movement, gets the Justice Ministry, replacing Ahmed Mekky, who criticised the president's plan to reform the justice system, and retire 13,000 judges, including the presidents of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court

According to Azzam, the Muslim Brotherhood plans to take over culture as well, gradually. In fact, Morsi appointed Ahmed Eissa Ahmed, an expert on Islamic and Coptic culture, as minister of Antiquities. This goes against the long-established practice of appointing internationally recognised intellectuals and archaeological experts to the department.

"The story that is being written is an old one," Azzam said. "Like in other places, the Muslim Brotherhood wants to places its members everywhere, especially in government, in order to rule even if they should lose political support."

In recent months, Morsi's changes are having their first disruptive effects. The most striking example is the resignation of Mazhar Shaheen, the imam of Omar Makram Mosque on Tahrir Square.

He was a leading figure in the Arab Spring of 2011 and was well liked by the Protestant community with whom he had close ties of friendship. However, he was forced out of office last month by an order of the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Shaheen was removed against the wishes of Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, who has always been critical of President Morsi and the Islamist establishment.

In recent months, the grand imam and other members of al-Azhar University have also come under attack in the media over alleged food poisoning of 500 students at the Islamic institution. (S.C.)

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