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EGYPT: New ministers sworn in after lengthy nomination process

July 21, 2011 | 10:37 am

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Fourteen new ministers were sworn in Thursday to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's Cabinet in an effort to calm protests against the nation's ruling military council and its troubled interim government.

The Cabinet reshuffle is a response by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and an embattled Sharaf meet demonstrators' demands of reforming ministries and purging officials who served under former President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade-old regime.

The official state news agency MENA reported that new Cabinet appointments included ministers of foreign affairs, higher education, finance, telecommunications, civil aviation and industry. The swearing-in ceremony was twice postponed following delays over selecting ministers and Sharaf's brief hospitalization after suffering from low blood pressure on Monday evening.

Nominating new ministers turned out to be an ordeal for Sharaf after his initial choices were opposed by either activists or ministries’ officials. The prime minister announced earlier in the week that Zahi Hawass, the archaeologist known for his National Geographic documentaries and close ties to the Mubarak family, was to be replaced by Abdel Fattah el Banna as minister of antiquities. But Sharaf reversed himself and decided to temporarily keep Hawass in his post.

“Dr. El Banna has accused several of the antiquities employees of corruption and thus triggered much rejection against him holding the position. Essam Sharaf consequently believed that it wouldn’t be appropriate atmosphere for him to work,” the government announced in a statement.

Hawass told MENA on Wednesday that he was asked by Sharaf to carry on his duties but wasn’t mentioned in Thursday’s list of ministers. A Cabinet spokesman later announced that the ministry of antiquities would be downgraded to a Cabinet-affiliated office and not be its own ministry. 

In another reversal of fortune, Hazem Abdel Azim was replaced one night before the swearing in by Mohamed Abdel Kader Salem as minister of telecommunications. Egyptian media alleged that Abdel Azim had ties to an Israeli corporation, an accusation he denied.

Key figures such as Interior Minister Mansour el Essawy, Justice Minister Abdel Aziz el Guindi and Minister of Planning Fayza Aboul Naga all kept their posts, to the dismay of protesters.

El Essawy had been criticized for "police brutality” in dealing with protesters in Tahrir Square on Jun. 28. El Guindi was accused of playing a role in the “constant delays” in indicting Mubarak and members of his ousted regime for corruption and the deaths of protesters during the Jan. 25 revolution. Naga has often been viewed as too much of a holdover from the Mubarak era.

The number of protesters in Tahrir has fallen into the hundreds since their sit-in began July 8. Activists have called for another large rally on Friday, but the turnout may be low. It's a holiday weekend, and many Egyptians are weary of demonstrations and believe the interim government has attempted to make reforms.  

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. Credit: AFP

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