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Egypt's cabinet reshuffle a win for Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi's cabinet reshuffle bolsters the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, clearly rebutting opposition calls for a more representative government. Bradley Hope reports

CAIRO //Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi's cabinet reshuffle yesterday increased the power of the Muslim Brotherhood and was a clear rebuttal of opposition calls for a more representative government.

Three of the nine new ministers hail from the Brotherhood and its political party, in the planning, investment and agriculture portfolios.

They bring the organisation's representation in the 35-member cabinet to about a third.

A key demand from the National Salvation Front, an umbrella opposition group, was for Mr Morsi to create a "unity government".

The Front called for the removal of the prime minister, Hisham Qandil, and minister of interior, Ahmed Gamal El Din, whose police force has killed protesters in recent anti-government clashes.

The opposition group formed in November to challenge what it called Mr Morsi's attempts to give himself powers that rivalled the old regime of Hosni Mubarak.

But Mr Morsi, backed by the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, appears to have dug in for a longer battle with his opponents.

Parliamentary elections are likely to begin in October, giving him at least five months to reverse negative perceptions about his leadership as Egypt's democratically elected president.

"The announcement is an indicator that there is no willingness to make concessions on the part of the president," said Mohamed Menza, a founding member of the liberal Egypt Freedom Party that is part of the National Salvation Front. "The stalemate will continue."

The new cabinet members are Amr Darrag, minister of planning; Yehya Hamed, minister of investment; and Ahmed El Gezawi, minister of agriculture.

The cabinet changes appeared to be partly directed at the economy, which has suffered from more than two years of instability in Egypt and is the most pressing problem for Mr Morsi.

Hiss government has been unable to secure a US$4.8 billion (Dh17.6bn) loan from the International Monetary Fund because of its reluctance to start an economic reform plan that would mean higher taxes and less spending on subsidies.

The IMF believes this is necessary to reduce a budget deficit caused by an unsustainable welfare system that doles out cheap petrol and bread to Egyptians.

Egypt has relied on loans from Qatar, Libya, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to prevent complete economic collapse, but those lenders appear to be reaching their limit.

Obtaining an IMF loan would unlock billions of dollars worth of aid from other countries and donors waiting for the fund's seal of approval on Egypt's economic plan.

The shuffle was to "confront the economic crisis and to conclude the agreement with the IMF with new spirit and a new vision, and to confront the energy crises", Essam El-Erian, of the Freedom of Justice Party, told Al Jazeera's Egyptian news channel yesterday.

He was referring to a growing shortage of petroleum products that is expected to cause widespread power cuts this summer.

Sherif Haddara, chairman of Egyptian General Petroleum, was appointed minister of petroleum.

Fayyad Abdel Moneim, an Islamic economics expert who was appointed minister of finance, and Mr Darrag, a leader in the Freedom and Justice Party, will become the new contacts with the IMF, analysts said.

Ahmed Suleiman, a former justice ministry official, was named justice minister, taking over from Ahmed Mekky, who resigned last month in protest against a proposed law that would force thousands of judges to retire by reducing the retirement age to 60 from 70.

Mr Morsi's Islamist allies, including the moderate Al Wasat Party, have said the law was necessary to "cleanse the judiciary" of Mubarak-era holdovers.

The National Salvation Front opposes the law because, they say, it would allow the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated groups greater sway in the judiciary.

Mr Morsi has since said he will meet the judiciary to work out a compromise.

The other new members of cabinet are: Hatem Bagato, a former head of commissioners of the Supreme Constitutional Court, who was named minister of legal and parliamentary affairs; Ahmed Eissa, dean of the faculty of antiquities at South Valley University, who was appointed minister of antiquities; and Alaa Abdel-Aziz, a professor of drama at the Higher Institute for Cinema, who was appointed minister of culture.


* With additional reporting by Reuters

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