New cabinet, enduring challenges for Egypt
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.”