CAIRO – Egyptian 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, comes a day ahead of a planned visit by a top International Monetary Fund official to discuss an impending $4.8 billion loan.
The shake-up 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, has 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 April 6th youth opposition movement, said in a statement Sunday that Morsi’s administration had not consulted opposition parties on the move and that the Muslim Brotherhood would 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 negotiations for the 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 to the dollar. Financial analysts say the IMF loan is critical to pull 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 ministries of supply and domestic trade, and local development. The new finance minister, Al-Mursi al-Sayed Hegazy, 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 would ban interest on loans, as an alternative mechanism for economic reform.
Hegazy said he remained 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. He said Morsi has been far more conciliatory.
Islamists and opposition members alike had been deeply critical of the old Cabinet, and the shake-up Sunday was expected.
“My reading of the situation is that the performance of the previous Cabinet was not up to the required level,” Ghozlan said. “I hope the new Cabinet will perform better and rise with the country in a tangible way that can be felt by the regular citizen.”