by Tom Little
by Tom Little
CAIRO, Qahirah, July 18, 2013 (AFP)
The interim government tasked with putting Egypt back on track after president Mohammed Morsi’s ouster faces enormous challenges, from fixing the shattered economy to restoring security and democracy, experts say.
The new cabinet does have several factors working in its favour, however.
A wide section of the population that was bitterly disillusioned with Morsi’s rule, including several ministers, is supported by the country’s top religious authorities, both Muslim and Christian.
Separately, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait threw Egypt a financial lifeline last week, pledging $12 billion in aid and allaying fears of the country going bankrupt in the short term.
But major risks remain, with the threat of more violence between members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the security forces, and a surge in deadly attacks by militants in the Sinai, home to Egypt’s luxury Red Sea resorts.
Interim president Adly Mansour has set the government a tight timetable for reforming the constitution and holding fresh elections, while structural economic problems, including unaffordable food and fuel subsidies and a bloated public sector, must be confronted.
“There are a variety of challenges and unfortunately they can be overwhelming,” said Samer Shehata, who teaches Arab studies at Georgetown University.
Islamist parties and movements are totally absent from the new 34-member cabinet, in which a number of well-known technocrats hold senior positions.
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy is a seasoned diplomat and former ambassador to Washington, accomplished economist and World Bank veteran Ahmed Galal heads the finance ministry, and Ziad Bahaa Eldin, another finance expert, was nominated minister for international cooperation.
Leftwing activist Kamal Abu Eita, a respected trade union leader, was appointed labor minister.
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s appointment as deputy premier bolsters the military’s strong support for the government, while also raising suspicions about the cabinet’s independence from the generals who toppled Morsi.
Shehata says restoring security, which has sharply deteriorated since the fall of former strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, is essential.
A key task facing the government, namely how to bring back international investment and attract tourists, “has to be predicated on some kind of stability or security”, he said.
Reforming the police, known for its brutal methods and a leadership little-changed since the Mubarak era, is another pressing issue.
“The police hated the Brotherhood and now the police are newly elevated and I’m afraid calls for reform of the interior ministry in a meaningful way are not going to be heard or are not going to be executed,” Shehata said.
Sophie Pommier, an expert on the Arab world at Sciences-Po university in Paris, says the new government is under greater pressure to achieve results than its predecessor.
“Lacking the legitimacy of an elected government, it will have to earn it through concrete results,” she said.
Besides fixing the economy, the cabinet headed by liberal economist Hazem al-Beblawi “must meet high expectations in terms of the redistribution” of wealth, with Egyptians “waiting for quick signs that things are going in the right direction,” Pommier added.
But continuing violence “will complicate the situation”, she said.
The Brotherhood, weakened but not defeated after Morsi’s overthrow, has certainly not had its final word.
Brotherhood members have already demonstrated, through their ousted political wing and their ability to organize civil unrest, that they can certainly make life difficult for the new authorities.
Sameh Makram Ebeid, a former member of parliament for the liberal Egyptian bloc, argues that the success of the political transition is by no means a given.
“There is a lot to do with all the Islamists on the streets, or in the Sinai. It’s a huge task,” he said.
“The next major battle will be the parliamentary elections. It is still possible that the Islamists could have a majority, even if it is only marginal.”