New Egyptian cabinet sworn in

General el-Sissi remains as defense minister in what seems to a be limited reshuffle of government

Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, file photo (AFP/STR)
Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, file photo (AFP/STR)

CAIRO — Egypt’s new government was sworn in Saturday in a limited reshuffle that kept the powerful ministers of defense and interior in place under a new prime minister named days earlier.

State television aired the ministers being sworn in live from the presidential palace, led by new Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlib, the outgoing housing minister, a construction magnate who also held a senior position in the now-dissolved party of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The new Cabinet keeps Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as the country’s defense minister. The 59-year-old el-Sissi is widely expected to run for president in elections expected by April.

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.

The reshuffle comes after the surprise resignation Monday of the Cabinet, including then-Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi.

El-Sissi overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July. The military chief backed el-Beblawi’s government through tumultuous times, including a heavy crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and a nationwide referendum that adopted a new constitution while Islamic militant insurgency and terror attacks surged.

The change of government before the presidential vote appeared orchestrated to curb rising criticism of the outgoing Cabinet, which was accused of failing to stem widening labor strikes and continued protests. It also would spare el-Sissi the disruption associated with forming a new one if he becomes president. Parliamentary elections are expected by the summer, after which a new government is likely to be formed.

In the new lineup, Mehlib kept 20 ministers from el-Beblawi’s government and appointed 11 new ones, mostly technocrats. The new Cabinet includes three Christians and four women, but no Islamists. It removes most ministers who were members of political parties formed after the 2011 ouster of Mubarak.

This new interim government is the sixth since 2011. It’s also the second interim government after Morsi’s ouster.

The new Cabinet will face a host of challenges ranging from Egypt’s unstable security situation to a battered economy drained of resources.

Meanwhile Saturday Morsi’s youngest son was detained by police on suspicion of drug possession, the country’s official news agency reported.

The MENA news agency said police detained son Abdullah Morsi, a 20-year old university freshman, after a police patrol found a suspicious car parked on the side of the road in el-Obour city, east of Cairo. Officers found two rolled hashish cigarettes in the car, the agency said.

Investigating police officer Lt. Col. Hazem Saad told the agency that Morsi’s son confessed to possession of the hashish— said to be around 5 grams (0.18 ounces). A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said the car’s passengers were Morsi’s son and a friend.

Abdullah’s older brother, Osama, rejected the accusations, calling them fabricated. He said his brother just had been transferred to prosecutors and couldn’t have confessed since there hadn’t been an interrogation yet.

“This is an attempt to smear our image,” Osama Morsi, a lawyer, told to The Associated Press. “Half the members of this government consume alcohol and they are now accusing Morsi’s son of consuming a substance that alters consciousness.”

On Saturday, the trial of Morsi on charges of inciting the murder of his opponents while in office resumed. During the hearing, prosecutor Ibrahim Saleh said investigators initially interrogated and held Morsi at a naval base in Alexandria, offering the first official confirmation of where the ousted leader spent the first four months following his July 3 ouster. Morsi publicly appeared for the first time in November at the opening of this trial.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. 

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