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Egypt's cabinet sworn in as calls to curb military power continue

December 7, 2011 | 11:26 am

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REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Led by newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, an Egyptian cabinet was sworn in Wednesday amid continuing calls for the ruling military council and its interim government to step down. 

Ganzouri and his cabinet was sworn in by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and state media reported that the new prime minister would be granted wider powers than his predecessor. He will not, however, have authority over the military and judiciary branches. The move was seen as an attempt to appease protesters against military rule at a time when the the country is electing a new parliament.  

The military council, which has kept a tight grip over Egyptian affairs since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February, has often been criticized for denying the cabinet any real authority that would allow ministers to carry out the democratic reforms promised by the revolution.

The new cabinet, which includes 13 ministers, was sworn in after two weeks of negotiations. New ministers of finance, education, health, justice, information, transport, culture, civil aviation and transport were all named. Former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Selmi, who was heavily criticized for his proposed constitutional guidelines that would give the military enhanced power, was dismissed.

While the lineup of ministers was largely settled at least one day before the swearing in, Mohamed Ibrahim Youssef, a police general who retired prior to the Jan. 25 revolution, was announced as new interior minister only hours before the ceremony.

Ganzouri's appointment followed the resignation of former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who was forced out amid recent clashes between police and demonstrators in Tahrir Square that left more than 40 people dead.

Nonetheless, the new cabinet didn’t appease demonstrators. Scores of protesters continued their sit-in outside the cabinet's headquarters. They don’t believe the 78-year-old Ganzouri, who held the same post under Mubarak between 1996 and 1999, has what it takes to limit the military's power and move the country quickly toward democracy.

The ruling generals say they will not step aside until a president is elected in June. Parliamentary elections began last week and will continue until January. So far, Islamist parties are dominating the vote.

Fearful that Islamists may control the parliament, the military rulers said the army would appoint a council to oversee the drafting of a new constitution to ensure it is not overly influenced by Islamic law. Gen. Mukhtar Mulla told reporters Wednesday that the balloting for parliament in the first round, with Islamists receiving about 60% of the vote, does not reflect Egyptian society.     

"We are in the early stages of democracy," said the general in comments reported by the Associated Press. "This is not out of mistrust of the parliament. What we are seeing is free and fair elections ... but it certainly doesn't represent all sectors of society."

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-- Amro Hassan

Photo: Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri voting during the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections held last week. Credit: Agence France-Presse

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