Egypt reshuffle removes vestiges of Mubarak era

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:28 PM
Egypt reshuffle removes vestiges of Mubarak era

By Dina Zayed

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt named new ministers of the interior, foreign affairs and justice Sunday in a reshuffle that met many demands of reformists seeking a purge of officials chosen by ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Nabil Elaraby, a former International Court of Justice judge, was named minister of foreign affairs, replacing Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the face of Mubarak's foreign policy since 2004 and the most prominent minister to hang on this long.

The reshuffle marks the latest reforms enacted by the ruling military council, which has appeared ever more responsive to the demands of groups that rose up against Mubarak in mass protests and swept him from power on February 11.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces last week appointed a prime minister with the backing of youth protest groups to replace Ahmed Shafiq, whom Mubarak appointed to the post in his last weeks in power. The new cabinet will require the approval of the council headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

The council has charted a course toward parliamentary and presidential elections within six months so it can hand power back to a civilian, elected government.

Essam Sharaf, the new premier, met new ministers Sunday.

"This goes a long way in satisfying the demands of the revolutionary groups," Mustapha Kamal al-Sayyid, a political scientist told Reuters.

Elaraby was Egypt's former permanent representative at the United Nations. He is remembered for expressing reservations about the Camp David peace treaty with Israel which he helped to negotiate, Sayyid said.

He was also a member of the independent council of "Wise Men" which formed after the eruption of the uprising against Mubarak to urge his administration to make reforms.

The military council hopes the new government will find acceptance among Egyptians and restore confidence, enabling the economy to start moving again.

Tantawi, head of the military council, kept his post as minister of defense.

ONE MONTH TO SHOW RESULTS

"The new cabinet has a grace period of about a month," said Ezzedin Choukri-Fishere, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. "It comes on a wave of goodwill and optimism, because everyone wants this government to work."

"But at the same time, they have a grace period that is very short because the expectations are so high. If they don't start the key work soon, these expectations will be dashed and turned into something else."

One of the main challenges is to redeploy the police force, which largely disintegrated in the early days of the uprising and whose reputation for brutality helped fuel the protests.

Mansour el-Essawy, the new interior minister, vowed to work to improve the image of the police force.

Reform of the interior ministry's security services remains a major demand of the revolutionary groups who want the dissolution of branches including the infamous state security.

"I have spoken of the need to shrink the role of the state security apparatus, so that it is only focused on fighting terrorism and does not intervene with the administrative lives of the average citizen," the state news agency quoted him as saying.

Protesters have stormed its offices in recent days to demand change. Essawy was not associated with state security in his former role as a senior interior ministry official, Sayyid said.

Neither was he seen as part of the inner circle of Habib al-Adli, who held the post for 13 years until Mubarak removed him from his job at the start of the protests against his rule. Adli is on trial, charged with money laundering.

"Essawy is known for fighting corruption," Sayyid said.

Mohammed al-Guindy, the new justice minister, said he was looking forward to fighting corruption and overseeing presidential and parliamentary elections which will be managed by the judiciary according to new constitutional reforms.

The reforms include a historic eight-year cap on the length of time a president can spend in office and will be put to a referendum on March 19.

A number of ministers who served under Mubarak are facing legal investigation on corruption charges.

Sameh Fahmy, the former oil minister, became the latest former official to be banned from leaving the country pending investigations of charges of financial violations, the cabinet's Facebook page said.

(Writing and additional reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)