(Photo of Egypt’s new PM by Khaled Kandil / Associated Press / November 24, 2013)
The culture of rumors and speculations in Egypt can tempt us to abandon our logical thinking. Take, for example, the resignation of Beblawi’s government—this was a move that took many by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. The government resignation was inevitable; the timing may be intriguing, but the decision was not. Clarity and transparency are lacking commodities when it comes to Egypt’s political scene. We cannot know for sure why the government resigned (or forced to resign), nonetheless, there are contributing factors behind the departure of Beblawi’s government.
The Beblawi government appeared post-Morsi. It will always be associated with July 3 and the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Whether the army chief, Marshal Sisi, intends to run for election or not, the Egyptian leadership needs a new government with fresh faces, commissioned with the crucial task of preparing for the future. The subsidence of the intense protests on the streets, together with the relative order that is now associated with Morsi’s trial, has seemingly convinced the authorities in Egypt that it has sufficiently weakened the Brotherhood and is now focusing on other goals and missions.
On the other hand, Egyptian Journalist Abdullah Kamal has explained through his Facebook account that many of Beblawi’s ministers have openly backed Sisi. While this is indeed true, it is probably a source of embarrassment for the Egyptian leadership. Sisi may be after power, but formal grooming is not ideal for the alleged democratic façade the leadership is trying to maintain. Moreover, the performance of most of Beblawi’s ministers was disappointing, even by local standards, and the calls for their departure came from several sources, including many of Sisi’s fans.
Business executive needed
In eras of uncertainty, digging for cash can help. Housing Minister Mehlib is a well-known technocrat and a career executive; his experience with the Arab Contractors Company is ideal for this role. In his first press interview, Mehlib declared his priorities to be encouraging investments and reviving tourism; in short, he is after money. Contractors are not just motivated to construct new projects, but also to recycle old stuff that is deemed a source of much-needed cash. I expect Mehlib to try to play the BBC’s program, “Cash in the Attic,” with the hopes of forging as many business deals as possible before the new president enters the Ittahdyia presidential palace. How is he going to do that is still unclear? Mehlib has probably learned a trick or two from his years of service with Mubarak. Selling lands, or commission deals with Arab businessmen is probably the way forward for a government that is desperate for cash.
Ending the various public sector strikes is another task the new government faces. Beblawi has failed to fulfill his pledge to set a minimum wage for workers, which has stirred up a wave of strikes. However, we must understand that workers are also smart; they know that their opportunity to get good deals from the government come before and not after the presidential election; therefore, they exert maximum pressure on the government. The workers’ mindset does not need a political scientist like Beblawi, but a business dealer like Mehleb, who spent most of his life negotiating and clinching deals.
The third task for Mehlib is to establish security and counter the growing wave of terrorist attacks in egypt, but again that is probably the only task that he may not be directly involved in. Again in his press conference, Mehlib hinted that individuals to fill the top ministerial jobs would be chosen by the interim leadership (and not him). The appointment of a new interior minister might be tricky. Dismissing the current Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim can be the most dignified way for the current interim leadership to wash their hands of all the bloodshed and violence of the last few months. However, Ibrahim is not the weak man that would happily assume all the post-July 3 sins. Ibrahim survived the ousting of Morsi and may survive the departure of Beblawi, but it is still unclear whether the hawks in the interior ministry would decide the fate of the current interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim or whether the army chief would override and pick a new face suitable for a new era. Securing Egypt is not an easy task; Mehlib will be powerless in saving the economy if the wave of terrorist attack continues with the current pace.
Much has been said to describe the army chief Sisi, but even his enemies agree about his shrewdness. He clearly likes to take his time and avoid rushing into a hasty decision. The Marshal’s understanding of his relative inexperience is probably behind the appointment of Mehlib’s government; a buffer government between the past and the future can allow Sisi to position himself at the centre of the political dynamics without owning to its mistakes and decisions. The army’s men can be rough, but Sisi likes to fashion his future career slowly, like a carpet weaver; he will not declare his plan until he has made the final touches, dots all the i’s and crosses the t’s. It remains to be seen whether Mehlib will help him in this task or if Mubrak’s man will create a greater mess for the Marshal.