x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Egypt balances politics and policy

Egypt's new cabinet, whenever it is announced, will need to be a mix of politicians and technocrats if the government of Mohammed Morsi is to be effective.

If there is one characteristic that defines Egypt today, it is frustration. One month after the inauguration of a new president, the economy is still flagging, workers' salaries go unpaid and basic services such as electricity and water remain sporadic.

Tomorrow's unveiling of cabinet ministers, if it proceeds as planned, has been anxiously awaited. Cairo's next administration will be crucial in shaping Egypt's moribund economy and fragile stability. At the same time, failure to forge an inclusive mix of politicians will lead to just more wrangling. President Mohammed Morsi needs a team of politicians that keep the parties happy, as well as technocrats to actually get things done.

Egyptians have expressed little confidence that a new cabinet will strike that balance. On Saturday, a group of pro-democracy advocates, the National Front Alliance, accused Mr Morsi of creating "a clouded political scene". The criticism was especially significant because the alliance's members include secularists and moderate Islamists, blocs that are critical to the government's fortunes.

Mr Morsi's selection of an untested former water minister, Hesham Kandil, as prime minister last week underscored the difficulty. Does Egypt need technocrats or political heavyweights? Forging a new political order in a post-Mubarak Egypt must consider that experienced leaders will probably have been, at some point, tied to the old order. But one only needs to recall the disaster of Iraq's de-Baathification to understand that excluding every member of the old regime would be folly.

Even if Mr Morsi surprises sceptics with a consensus cabinet, thorny issues await. Any civilian government will be challenged by the military's grip on power. The legal wrangling over the new constitution, the draft of which has been delayed until September, shows the military's hand is still strong.

Perhaps more pressing, however, are economic issues that have gone unaddressed. The metric of the past week has been the "Morsi Meter": activists' rating of the president's performance on 64 bellwether issues, from improving the quality of flour to reducing traffic. Mr Morsi scores well only on one: curbing litterbugs.

Assuredly, the Morsi Meter is a politicised measuring stick. But this new cabinet must be able to make policy in an extremely politicised Egypt.