By Mariam Rizk
CAIRO: Egypt’s new interim government was sworn in Saturday, a lightly reshuffled Cabinet with familiar faces that keeps powerful ministers in charge of the country’s security and military services in place ahead of an anticipated presidential election.
The new Cabinet, Egypt’s sixth government since its 2011 revolt against autocrat Hosni Mubarak, retains Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as defense minister.
Many believe the wildly popular el-Sissi, who led the July 3 overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, will run for president.
The change of government before the presidential vote appeared orchestrated to curb rising criticism of the outgoing military-backed Cabinet, which was accused of failing to stem widening labor strikes and continued protests.
The new lineup by new interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlib largely removed Cabinet members belonging to political parties formed after the 2011 revolt, replacing them with technocrats or businessmen.
The new Cabinet also would spare el-Sissi the disruption associated with forming a new government if he becomes president. Parliamentary elections are expected by the summer, after which a new government is likely to be formed.
Presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi said the priorities of the new Cabinet will be to prepare for the presidential and parliamentary elections, key milestones in the military-backed road map adopted after Morsi’s ouster.
The second priority, Badawi said, will be to deal with urgent needs of the public, including ensuring security and providing basic services in the face of worsening power shortages and widening labor strikes.
In state-televised footage from the presidential palace, a total of 31 ministers were sworn in, led by Mehlib, the outgoing housing minister. He is a construction magnate who also held a senior position in the now-dissolved party of Mubarak.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who oversees the country’s police, also remains in place despite wide criticism of his performance in handling rising violence and for using heavy-handed tactics against dissent.
Mehlib’s Cabinet keeps 20 ministers from former Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi’s government and appoints 11 new ones.
The new Cabinet includes three Christians and four women, but no Islamists.