Islamists get top Egypt jobs

Cabinet change precedes talks with IMF on loan

The Washington Post, AP

President Mohammed Morsi rebuilt his Cabinet on Sunday, replacing 10 ministers and amplifying the Islamist presence in the government.

The move, in which at least three Islamists were appointed to head major economic ministries, came a day ahead of a planned visit by a top International Monetary Fund official to discuss an impending $4.8 billion loan.

The shakeup also marked the latest in a series of appointments and forced resignations that have rattled Egypt’s government in the two years of political turmoil since a popular uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi, as well as the transitional leaders who ruled before his June election, have used Cabinet shuffles as a means to assuage popular frustration at the slow pace of economic and political reforms.

Islamist political parties gave their support to the latest move, but some opposition members criticized it, saying it served only to further consolidate Islamist control of top government positions weeks after a conflict over the religious character of Egypt’s new constitution left the country bitterly divided.

Mohamed Adel, a leader in the opposition April 6th Youth Movement, said in a statement Sunday that Morsi’s administration had not consulted opposition parties on the move and that the Muslim Brotherhood will bear responsibility for any bad policies to come. Morsi is a former leader of the powerful Islamist organization.

It is unclear how the last-minute Cabinet replacements might affect the negotiations for the badly needed $4.8 billion IMF loan, which Egypt is hoping to secure by the end of the month. The country’s foreign currency reserves have dwindled to less than half their value before the 2011 uprising, and the Egyptian pound plummeted to a new low Sunday at 6.45 Egyptian pounds to the dollar.

Financial analysts say the IMF loan is critical to pulling Egypt back from its own “fiscal cliff” by opening the door to more loans, investments and aid money.

At least three of the new ministers are long-serving members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including those heading the Ministry of Supply and Domestic Trade and the Local Development Ministry.

Al-Mursi al-Sayed Hegazy, the new finance minister, is not a member of the Islamist organization, but local media described him as a specialist in Islamic banking who may be sympathetic to the group.

Many of the Brotherhood’s allies from the more-conservative Salafist parties have called on the government to implement a system of Islamic banking, which will ban interest on loans, as an alternative mechanism for economic reform.

Hegazy told reporters Sunday that he remains committed to discussing the IMF deal. And Brotherhood leaders fired back at accusations that the government was stacking the Cabinet with Islamists.

“When a Democratic Party candidate wins in the United States, does he appoint Republicans? Would they appoint their rivals?” said Mahmoud Ghozlan, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman. On the contrary, he said, Morsi has been far more conciliatory.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s minority Christians celebrated their Christmas.

Many gathered in Cairo’s main cathedral Sunday for Midnight Mass on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas led by their new pope, Tawadros II, who was elected in November.

Morsi called Tawadros with Christmas greetings and sent one of his aides to the Mass.

Concerned for their future and their ancient heritage in Egypt, some Copts are reportedly considering leaving the country. Others are aligning themselves with moderate Muslims and secular Egyptians who also fear the rise of Islamic power.

In one of his first public messages after his enthronement, Tawadros said the ouster of Mubarak opened the way for a larger Coptic public role, encouraging them to participate in the nation’s evolving democracy.