08/03/2012, 00.00

New cabinet has no leading figure from the Jasmine Revolution

Prime Minister Hisham Qandil's new government took the oath of office yesterday afternoon. It includes two women ministers, one Christian. Under Mubarak though, there were two Christians. Arab spring figures and Salafists are not in the cabinet. Egyptian Church spokesman underscores the temporal limits of the new administration (six months) and criticises the presence of a single Copt. The Muslim Brotherhood's apparent sign of pluralism is designed to reassure public opinion and prepare its new push for power in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - "The government of newly-appointed Prime Minister Hisham Qandil has only one Christian member, none of its members took part in the Jasmine Revolution, and too many of them are leftovers from the old regime. The government itself is set to last six months. Many questions are being asked about an Islamist-led Egypt," Fr Church spokesman Rafic Greiche said. He spoke to AsiaNews about Egypt's new cabinet, the second after the fall of Mubarak, the first of President Morsi. For the clergyman, the jury is still out on the new government. On the positive side, it has two women, its average age is around 45-55, it has few members from the Muslim Brotherhood and no Salafist. On the negative side, it has not allayed concerns people have.

Hisham Qandil's cabinet took the oath of office yesterday afternoon in front of President Mohammed Morsi. It includes 31 ministers chosen by the prime minister and approved by the president. Four additional ministers, including the minister of civil aviation, will be personally appointed by the president in a few days time.

Two women, Nadia Zakhary and Nagwa Khalil, are members of the cabinet. The first is a Copt and a professor of biochemistry and tumour biology. She will be the minister of Scientific Research, a post she occupied in the previous Ganzhouri administration. The second held a position at the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research and was a member of the fact-finding committee that investigated the January 2011 uprising. She will be the minister of Insurance and Social Affairs.

For the first time, the cabinet will have only one Christian member, Fr Greiche noted. "Since President Nasser's time, cabinets had two, sometimes even three Christian members."

After his appointment as prime minister, Qandil said that his cabinet would be representative of Egyptian society, Christians included. Zachary's choice is a way to reassure public opinion.

To avoid criticism and speculation, the prime minister picked people for their expertise, leaving out political leaders from parties that were born with the Jasmine Revolution.

"The Muslim Brotherhood has never believed in the Jasmine Revolution," the priest said. "The exclusion of political figures that played a leading role in the demonstrations is a sign of how false Islamist statements were. They rode the wave of protests only to win votes and gain power. Instead of figures from secular parties, they chose members of the old regime."

In fact, some of the new ministers are cronies from old Mubarak's regime, including General Hussein Tantawi, head the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), who will remain Defence minister.

All in all, seven ministers will continue from the outgoing military-appointed cabinet, including Mumtaz al-Said, who will serve as Finance minister, and Mohammed Kamal Amr, who stays on as Foreign Affairs minister. Former prime minister Kamal Ganzouri becomes a presidential adviser.

The choice of non-aligned technocrats has reduced the role of Islamists and kept Salafists out altogether. Only four are members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) have received a cabinet post. The FJP, which is the president's party, won the recent parliamentary elections. The parliament itself was dissolved in June.

After the controversy over the possible appointment of a minister from its ranks, the Salafist al-Nour party quit the government, casting doubts about the links between the Muslim Brotherhood and its former "allies".

Still, Salafists could join the government when a new parliament will be elected in February, Fr Greiche noted. Excluding them now could be a way not to scare Egyptians and especially the international community.

What is more, the Salafist view of Islam differs from that of the Muslim Brotherhood. By excluding them, the difference is made that more visible, and could become even more so in the future.

"In Egypt, everybody is aware that the 2011 election alliances were only a solution to gain votes," he added.

For the spokesman of the Egyptian Catholic Church, now the question is what the new government will do.

"In these six months, we shall see whether the new government intends to change the country. What choices will the new ministers make? Will be they the expression of Morsi's much vaunted pluralism or will they embody the will of the Muslim Brotherhood?" (S.C.)

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