Little or no expectations ride on the five cabinet posts the Muslim Brotherhood selected, but, combined, they offer the Islamist group an opportunity to recruit fresh supporters and get its message through.
Morsi keeps Brotherhood from problem posts
CAIRO // In what appears to be a deft political tactic ahead of parliamentary elections, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's first cabinet keeps Muslim Brotherhood members clear of ministries dealing with problematic areas of the economy or services that are of concern to ordinary Egyptians.
Little or no expectations ride on the five posts the Brotherhood selected, but, combined, they offer the Islamist group an opportunity to recruit fresh supporters and get its message through.
The selections suggest that the Brotherhood has regained some of the pragmatism - some say opportunism - which has defined its approach to politics in the past.
It took the ministries of information, housing, higher education, youth and labour in the government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil that was sworn in on Thursday by Mr Morsi, himself a longtime leader of the Brotherhood.
Seven members of the outgoing, military-backed government, including the foreign, defence, finance and culture ministers, kept their jobs.
The Brotherhood's move is all the more pragmatic because Mr Qandil's 35-man government is not likely to stay in office after a new legislature is elected before the end of the year.
Taking high-profile posts in the cabinet, or ones that deal with vital services such as power, water or fuel, would have amounted to an unnecessary risk for a group that is trying to rebuild its reputation ahead of a vote it hopes to dominate.
The tactic is the latest sign of the worsening situation in post-Mubarak Egypt, where seemingly unbridled freedoms together with streets protests, surging crime and a power struggle between the powerful military and Islamist groups determined to dominate are combining to push the country close to the brink of chaos.
The information ministry, for example, gives the Brotherhood sway over state media, particularly TV.
It continues to show much of enmity that successive regimes since the 1950s harboured toward the fundamentalist group even after it emerged from decades of repression after Hosni Mubarak's regime was ended last year.
With loyal personnel in the right places, State TV and radio could polish the Brotherhood's image, while the group could also inject more religion into programming.
The higher education portfolio gives the Brotherhood influence over the country's universities, where the fundamentalists traditionally recruited and was the battleground between Islamists and liberals. The Youth portfolio could allow it to tap into an even wider pool of youth in a country where more nearly 50 per cent of the population is less than 35 years old.
The labour job will help the Brotherhood gain a foothold among workers to match its huge following among other groups such as school teachers and lawyers.
In contrast, taking the foreign ministry, for example, would have put a Brotherhood minister in contact with Israel, viewed by most Egyptians as an enemy despite a 1979 peace treaty.
The oil ministry would have exposed a Brotherhood minister to harsh criticism since the country has been suffering intermittent fuel shortages for the past year.
Same with the supply ministry, which is in charge of distributing basic food items to millions of poor Egyptians.
The Brotherhood's tactical move comes less than two months after the powerful military, armed with a court ruling, dissolved a parliament that the group and other Islamists dominated. It was also back in mid-July that the generals stripped the president of significant powers and gave themselves wide-ranging authority, including the right to legislate.
A new legislature filled with Brotherhood members and their Islamist allies would help Mr Morsi assert his authority in the face of the generals, but even Mr Morsi cannot be sure he would retain his job after a new constitution is drafted and adopted in a referendum. Many expect the military to insist that new presidential elections must also follow the new constitution.
While the Brotherhood may stand to gain from naming five members to five key Cabinet positions, the government has none of the features that Mr Morsi had promised all on the campaign trail and since taking office.
Of all the political parties, only the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice was represented in the government despite a pledge that it was to be a national unity administration bringing in all the political shades of post-Mubarak Egypt. There were none of the figures of the youth groups behind the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak's regime.
In addition, Mr Morsi and Mr Qandil kept up Mubarak's tradition of allowing women and members of the Christian minority only token representation in the government. Social Affairs Minister Nagwa Khalil and Scientific Research Minister Nadia Iskandar Zakhari, both leftovers from the former government, were the only women in the line-up, with Ms Zakhari the only Christian in the government.