Egypt Cabinet has women, Christians, no Islamists
Cairo • Egypt's interim leader swore in a Cabinet on Tuesday that included women and Christians but no Islamists as the military-backed administration moved swiftly to formalize the new political order and present a more liberal face, which is markedly at odds with the deposed president and his supporters.
The changes came amid deep polarization and violence in Egypt, including new clashes that killed seven people as part of the continuing bloodshed that has marked the days after the armed forces coup that swept President Mohammed Morsi from office and cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt's military already wields great influence behind the scenes, and the army chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who ousted Morsi on July 3, was given a promotion in the Cabinet. He became a first deputy prime minister in addition to keeping his post as defense minister.
For most of the two years since the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the country has been split into two camps one led by Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, and another led by secular Egyptians, liberals, Christians and moderate Muslims.
The fault lines remain, except that the Islamist camp is no longer in power. It does not include members of any Islamist parties a sign of the enduring division that follows the removal of Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.
The interim president's spokesman had earlier said posts would be offered to the Muslim Brotherhood, but the group promptly refused, saying it would not take part in the military-backed political process and would continue protests until the legitimately elected Morsi is reinstated.
The only Islamist party that supported Morsi's ouster the ultraconservative Salafi el-Nour Party was not represented and criticized the leadership as "biased," lacking inclusion and repeating "the same mistake the last government was blamed for."
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had talked with el-Sissi about 10 times in the past week.
"We have encouraged publicly and privately the leaders of Egypt, including the interim president, the interim vice president and the prime minister in particular, to be inclusive, to bring all political parties in, to allow them to participate in the writing of the constitution and the elections," Hagel told reporters in Florida. "That's the only way it will work. We've been very clear on that."
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, an economist in his 70s, leads the government of 33 other ministers. Sworn in by interim President Adly Mansour, it reflected the largely liberal, secular bent of the factions who brought millions into the streets at the end of June calling for Morsi to step down and backed el-Sissi's removal of the president.
Women have a somewhat higher profile in the government, with three ministries including the powerful information and health ministries. Most past governments for decades have had at most only two women.
The Cabinet also includes three Christians, including one of the three women, Environment Minister Laila Rashed Iskander. That is also a first, since successive governments had no more than one or two Christians.
Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the National Salvation Front's top leaders and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has already been installed as Mansour's vice president.
The Cabinet is to run the country during a transition period announced last week by Mansour. The plan includes the formation of panels to amend the Islamist-drafted constitution passed under Morsi, then elections for a new parliament and president early next year.
After the swearing-in ceremony, the Cabinet held its first meeting and set the government's priorities as reviving the economy, bolstering public security and improving services, according to a palace statement.
El-Beblawi and his team face the formidable task of showing they are more efficient and resourceful than their predecessors. Egypt's economy has been worsening during the past two years with flight of capital and investors, slumping tourism and high unemployment among its 90 million people.
The new government will also have to tread carefully as it begins to deal with almost-daily street protests.