Factbox: The Formation of Egypt’s New Cabinet

On Monday, Hazem El-Beblawy’s cabinet unexpectedly submitted its resignation to interim President Adly Mansour, giving no reason for the surprise move. Mansour accepted the resignation within hours, commending Beblawy for the work he had done during Egypt’s “critical and hard time following the June 30 revolution.” Some speculate the resignation is tied to Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announcing his presidential candidacy. Mansour has since tasked former housing minister Ibrahim Mehleb with forming the new cabinet.

Who is Ibrahim Mehleb?

Mansour tasked interim Minister of Housing Ibrahim Mehleb with forming a new cabinet. Mehleb is a former member of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) and ex-chairman of the board of Arab Contractors, a leading construction company in the Middle East and North Africa. He is a civil engineer by training.

In his first public remarks, Mehleb placed national security and improving the lives of Egyptian citizens as top priorities for the new government. He believes that bringing stability and security to the country will lead to greater investment. He urged the Egyptian people to be patient regarding the country’s economic situation, pointing to limited resources but a promising future. He added that the new government will give full support to the police and seek to fight corruption within the government bureaucracy.  

Mehleb’s appointment as prime minister designate has already proved controversial. The FJP denounced it due to his former affiliation with the NDP. Ahmed Fawzy, a member of the Social Democratic Party, said this appointment points to Mubarak-era attributes.

The New Cabinet

Mehleb has begun consultations to form the new government, which he says should be formed in the next three to four days. According to initial reports, he will be changing about fifteen ministers, while twenty ministers from the interim government will maintain their positions. Independent daily Tahrir reported that among the ministries expected to be changed are irrigation, workforce, sports, health and electricity. The minister of interior and minister of tourism are also likely to stay.

The big question has been in regards to who will take over as defense minister. Egypt Independent reported that Field Marshal Sisi will continue to exercise his duties as head of the armed forces. He will continue to hold his position until the new presidential election bill is passed at which time he will announce whether he will run for president. Speaking about the minister of defense, Mehleb has commented on the matter saying that Mansour has the final say as to whether Sisi will remain as defense minister in the new government.

Several groups have voiced their opinions regarding the formation of the new government. The Nour Party has stated that it may participate in the formation of the new government. It has prepared a list of candidates for the new government that does not include anyone from its ranks but close affiliates of the group. However, it may rescind its earlier decision to not participate in government until parliamentary elections according to statements from Salah Abdel Maqsoud and party leader Younis Makhioun. Tamarod has expressed its support for Sedky Sobhy to be appointed as Sisi’s successor as minister of defense, while the Student Union for Egypt’s Students has called for the minister of education to remain in his post.

Responses to the Cabinet’s Resignation

The resignation of Beblawy’s cabinet has garnered mixed responses from government figures, the media and political groups.

Presidential hopeful Amr Moussa was among the few who praised El-Beblawy and his cabinet’s work despite the difficult times in which they were operating that may have hindered their success.

While Mansour and Moussa praised El-Beblawy and his cabinet, other political groups have praised the cabinet’s decision to resign. The conservative Salafi Nour Party praised the decision, saying that the government had been struggling. The Tamarod Movement also commended the resignation in a statement, saying that the Egyptian people had rejected this cabinet. The statement called on Mehleb to assume the role that El-Beblawy was unable to and be “a minister for the Egyptian street.” The April 6 Movement describe the resignation as overdue, pointing to the cabinet’s inability to improve the economy and maintain security in the country. The Revolutionary Bloc Forces said that this was the right move for a “weak and confused” government.

The head of the Social Popular Alliance Party Abdel Ghaffar Shokr questioned whether this was the right move for the cabinet since the public had been expecting  a cabinet reshuffle. He pointed out that it may have been best for the cabinet to stay until presidential elections but maintained that the cabinet did a good job in Egypt’s critical time.

Other groups have denounced the cabinet’s lack of transparency. Egypt’s Strong Party questioned whether the cabinet was being completely straightforward with its reasons for resigning and called the move an intention to pave the way for Sisi’s nomination, a comment the Social Democratic Party echoed. The Strong Party added that the government should still be held accountable politically and criminally for its actions, describing them as “crimes against the state.” In a statement, the party’s spokesperson added that in recent history Egypt had not seen such neglect and chaos as it had under the Beblawy government.

The pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) shared this position, stating that the cabinet members’ resignation does not “absolve them of responsibility.” The alliance also added that the resignation paves the way for Sisi to rise to the top, to which the statement added that “this is not going to happen.” The Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party said the decision was a way to “absorb Egyptians’ anger” and was a step towards Sisi announcing his presidential candidacy. Muslim Brotherhood spokeswoman Wafaa al-Banna pointed to the resignation as an indication of Sisi’s fragility.

Internationally, the United States expressed surprise in response to the resignation announcement. In a daily press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told the media that the step was unexpected and that the US government would continue to encourage Egypt’s transition process towards a democratically-elected government.

Finally, outgoing Prime Minister El-Beblawy commented on the cabinet’s decision. He believes the cabinet carried out its responsibilities and achieved good results. He added that the cabinet members were the most qualified figures that were able to help Egypt get out of a “narrow dark tunnel” at a critical time. In response to a reporter’s question on whether he had been pushed out, he said that no one would be willing to do anything against his will.

Local media sources, including independent daily Al-Shorouk, reported that the resignation was “something closer to a firing order” due to the country’s increasing protests and labor strikes.

Sarah Saleeb is the EgyptSource intern at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. She received her BA from the University of Virginia in Foreign Affairs and Middle East Studies. Previously, she was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute. She tweets at @sarahsaleeb. 

Image: Photo: Prime Minister designate Ibrahim Mehleb (Youm7)