New cabinet, enduring challenges for Egypt

Friday 25/09/2015
Technocrat with no history of membership of political parties

CAIRO - Egypt’s new government, sworn in after the previous administration resigned in a corruption scandal, faces the challenges of an Islamist security threat and a falter­ing economy as it guides the coun­try to new elections.
The government formed on Sep­tember 19th by Sherif Ismail, a petroleum minister under former prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab, will have less than three months in office with parliamentary elec­tions scheduled to begin October 17th and end in December — the third and final step of Egypt’s post- Muslim Brotherhood road map an­nounced by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi more than two years ago.
The new administration will have to confront the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai peninsula and else­where, and deal with increased dis­satisfaction with the government’s handling the war on terror follow­ing the killing of eight Mexican tourists and the effect on Egypt’s vital tourism industry. Egypt also faces a host of socio-economic problems, which include rising commodity prices, deteriorating public services and endemic cor­ruption, experts say.
“This is the reason why the gov­ernment has to work 24/7,” Amr Hassanein, an economics professor at the American University in Cairo, said. “The people have high expec­tations and these expectations have turned into yet another problem.”
Mahlab had been a popular prime minister and was often seen meeting ordinary citizens, but his government ultimately failed to meet expectations and submitted resigned after a high-profile cor­ruption case involving then-agri­culture minister Salah Eddin Helal. Helal was arrested September 7th and the government stepped down a few days later.
Corruption is said to cost Egypt $25 billion a year, according to gov­ernment data. Egypt’s gross domes­tic product in 2014 was estimated at $287 billion.
The decision to form a new gov­ernment was an effort on Sisi’s part to sway the public away from pun­ishing parties backing his admin­istration in the forthcoming elec­tions, media reports said. Ismail, the new prime minister, is a tech­nocrat with no history of member­ship of political parties.
Sisi has shown little indica­tion that he will change his stance on security, with Egypt’s Interior and Defence ministers remaining unchanged. But with just a few months in office before elections, Ismail’s government will have to work to restore public confidence.
“This is why I say this govern­ment will be racing against time to solve all these problems before the elections,” said Mukhtar al-Sherif, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University. “Whether it will suc­ceed in doing this is something that will be clear in a few weeks from now.”