Will the Cabinet be shown the door?

The possibility of yet another Cabinet reshuffle has been the leading story in Egyptian newspapers and daily talk shows in recent weeks, after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration started voicing increasingly stern concerns about Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and his team of ministers.

This week, several media outlets reported on a purported crisis in the Cabinet. The privately owned newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea wrote that Mehleb sent strict orders to his team to wrap up any pending road, agriculture and education projects they were committed to. The same newspaper alleged that when Sisi lamented the slow progress on several development projects during his national address on June 7, the president was actually firing warning shots at his prime minister.

The privately owned daily paper Al-Watan also speculated that Mehleb could be leaving soon, citing anonymous sources who pointed to a seemingly veiled threat Sisi made in the June 7 speech: “You promised me to be a bulldozer opening up the road. Where is this bulldozer?”

On television, talk show host Ibrahim Eissa dedicated several hours of broadcast time to the Mehleb Cabinet during his daily show on the privately owned ONtv satellite channel. In one recent episode, Eissa opined that Mehleb lacks a real vision for development.

“I don’t question Mehleb’s loyalty — I question the thinking, the imagination, the vision,” Eissa said. “With Mehleb, Egypt does not move forward. It is running in place.”

In the same week, talk show host Tamer Amin said that any ministers who don’t want to do their work should be compelled to do so with “two slaps on the face.”

Marwan Younis, a member of the higher committee of the National Movement Party and former member of Sisi’s presidential campaign, says that without question, the government has failed. Many ministers lack the ability to take initiative, and instead react to crisis after crisis instead of working to prevent them in the first place, he argues.

“Some of the ministers lack a political compass. They fell prey to healing the wounds of the past without real vision” for the future, Younis adds, pointing to the ministers of culture, investment and education, in particular.  

But Sisi cannot be blamed for Mehleb’s failure, Younis contends.

“We could have done that if there were no clear objectives and targets put forward by the president. But the president was clear with his directions and goals. It is the government that is not willing to execute these directions,” Younis maintains.

He points to the loss of momentum after the much-hyped economic development conference in March as a prime example. Egypt landed several big-budget investment deals for a bundle of national projects that have yet to be implemented.

The severely delayed parliamentary elections are another black mark on Mehleb’s record. With the problematic parliamentary elections law still hotly contested, political parties have repeatedly lambasted the Cabinet for dragging its heels on issuing a law that would bolster the political arena by empowering parties. While the Cabinet’s failure to issue a law that both falls in line with the Constitution and achieves widespread political consensus has raised several question marks as to the Sisi administration’s desire to have a parliamentary body in the first place, the burden of that failure is still borne by the Cabinet.

The tendency to blame the Cabinet for an administration’s underperformance is reminiscent of Sisi’s predecessors, including ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Political commentator Abdallah al-Sinawy believes that this blame game is back in full force. For him, the issue is not whether or not the ministers will be replaced, but rather the serious lack of a real vision and policies.

“There are no clear public policies to govern the shape of how this country is ruled,” he contends.

The selection of the Cabinet was a depoliticized process, Sinawy argues, similar to how Mubarak formed his Cabinets. Ministers with the ability to play an active political role are kept out — instead, technocrats are appointed to keep this faulty wheel of bureaucracy running.

“Here, the responsibility falls completely on Sisi himself. We witness the same mistakes and the same policies. This actually threatens Sisi’s basic existence and the chances for his administration to continue,” Sinawy warns.

Younis is skeptical of the Cabinet reshuffle rumors, as such a task should be the mission of the incoming parliament, he says. He believes that working to finish the political roadmap authored by the transitional government in the aftermath of former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster is far more vital in the current moment.

But despite these reservations, rumors continue to circulate in local media outlets that many key positions will soon be changed, particularly the ministers of investments, trade and industry, health, housing and others. There are also speculations that new posts will be introduced, such as a ministry for Egyptians living abroad and a ministry dedicated to small and medium enterprises. As for Mehleb’s future, it’s rumored that he’ll be replaced by Ashraf al-Araby, the current minister of planning and administrative reform.

But the veracity of these speculations has yet to be confirmed — Cabinet sources were unavailable to comment to Mada Masr, and other media outlets cite only “unnamed sources” in their reporting on the potential reshuffle. But perhaps more importantly, it’s unclear how these changes, if implemented, would reflect the desired objectives of the Sisi administration.

Mai Shams El-Din 

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