The Pros and Cons of Egypt’s Cabinet Reshuffle

Brad Youngblood, Research Associate

February 15, 2017

If you, like Representative Mustafa Bakri, are hoping that Egypt’s recent cabinet reshuffle will result in half of the state’s issues being solved by the end of 2017, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed by the government’s choices. However, if you were just hoping that the long-awaited reshuffle (which was rumored to have been stretched out by candidates’ lack of interest in the job) would be reasonable, then you can rest easy. According to publicly available information, the nine ministers and four deputy ministers (see list of ministers below) that parliament voted to approve on February 14 are technocrats with closer professional ties to academia — two of them conducted doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — than the political or military establishments in Egypt. This is laudable, even if the appointment of qualified individuals to high level positions is a low bar of expectations. Yet after the precedent set by some members of parliament calling for more politically minded ministers and the last minister appointed to the cabinet being a general with only military experience, the ministers put forward for this cabinet reshuffle can be seen as a mostly positive step.

Another positive development was that the majority of the ministries involved were not part of the March 2016 cabinet reshuffle of 10 ministries. Only the transportation and investment ministers were removed after less than a year at their posts. Finding different ministries to shake up this year isn’t particularly difficult or praiseworthy, but keeping ministers in place will be important going forward as many of the economic and social issues Egypt is wrestling with require commitment to long-term reform programs. Not bowing to the pressure to throw out the entire cabinet in response to the shock of floating the pound and raising some subsidies in the final quarter of 2016 is a positive sign for the state’s program in the near future. This does not necessarily guarantee success, but, like appointing technocrats, it does give success a chance.

The otherwise positive reshuffle is marred by two issues, however, both of which are related to the candidate vetting process. The first is that the process remains a prerogative of the executive branch of government, no matter the 2014 constitution’s empowerment of the parliament. As previously noted, rumors of the reshuffle and attempts to filter the original pool of 50 reported candidates have been swirling since late November 2016. Parliamentarians, then, should not have been unprepared for the reshuffle. But the actual candidates and ministries involved were kept secret until the finalized list was presented to parliament for a vote. This process is debatable at best. The last cabinet reshuffle happened just as parliament had begun to legislate and therefore could be seen as Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s final change to the cabinet before the constitutionally mandated parliamentary vote of confidence. However, the February 14 reshuffle followed the same pattern instead of moving toward a model of greater legislative oversight in which parliament is given priority to extend or remove confidence from the cabinet. Instead of parliamentarians initiating and guiding the process, which is closer to the spirit of the 2014 constitution, the parliament was simply asked to vote by a show of hands on the group of new ministers in a single vote only hours after the final list was revealed to them, thereby denying them any ability to edit the list. Several representatives expressed their disappointment after the vote with the choice of ministers being reshuffled, which included some ministers they were content with instead of ministries they deemed to be underperforming. This process sets a poor precedent for the parliament, which is empowered to oversee the cabinet but apparently has neither power to summon ministers to account nor to choose which ministers should be removed as a result of this.

The second black mark on the process is the allegations made by Representative Magdi Malek, who led the fact-finding committee in the corruption case that removed former Minister of Supply Khaled Hanafi, against new Minister of Agriculture Abdel Moneim al-Banna. According to Malek, al-Banna is implicated in 18 different corruption cases in his previous management positions. If this proves to be true, it calls the thoroughness of the candidate vetting process into question and, by extension, the trustworthiness of every member of the cabinet. It also reflects poorly the executive branch that chose him from among the other 41 reported candidates and the parliament who voted blindly to approve him without conducting adequate research on the candidates presented to them.

When taken together, all of these points appear to cancel each other out. The Egyptian government could have done worse in their choices for cabinet ministers, though the issues within the process of the reshuffle may offset the positive aspects of the technical expertise of the new ministers. Unfortunately, this means the end result is just another day in Egyptian politics.

New Ministers:

· Sahar Nasser — minister of investment and international cooperation (a merger of two separate ministries)

· Abdel Moneim al-Banna — minister of agriculture, replacing Essam Fayed

· Omar al-Khattab Arafa — minister of parliamentary affairs, replacing Magdi al-Agati

· Ali Maseelhi — minister of supply and trade (a merger of two separate ministries)

· Muhammad Hisham Zayn al-Abdin al-Sharif — minister of local development, replacing Ahmed Zaki Badri

· Hala Helmi al-Said Younis — minister of planning and administrative reform, replacing Ashraf al-Arabi

· Khaled Atef Abdel Ghaffar — minister of higher education and scientific research, replacing Ashraf al-Sheehi

· Tariq Galal Shawqi Ahmed Shawqi — minister of education, replacing al-Hilali al-Sherbini

· Hisham Arafat Mehdi Ahmed — minister of transportation, replacing Galal al-Said