By Yasmine Saleh
Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb was sworn in on Tuesday at the head of a new government that retained key economic and security ministers but created a new investment post to attract funds to an economy racked by years of political turmoil.
Mehleb, followed by his ministers, took the oath of office in front of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who re-appointed him after Sisi won a landslide election victory in May.
Trying to project a sense of urgency and purpose in the new government’s mission, the early-rising former military president had summoned the ministers to a palace in northern Cairo at 6am for a ceremony that began promptly, an hour later.
His prime minister echoed the need to move quickly, promising an energetic, focused and better coordinated regime.
“There is no time for rest,” Mehleb was quoted as saying on the front page of the state’s Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.
“We will start our work from the early hours of the morning as there is a strict plan and new technique of work to tie all the ministers to work together and not work as if they were isolated islands,” he added.
Egypt’s economy is forecast to grow at just 3.2 per cent in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, well below levels needed to create sufficient jobs for a rapidly growing population of 86 million and to ease widening poverty.
The turmoil of the last three years, when two presidents were overthrown, hundreds of people were killed and tourism and investment were battered, have contributed to high unemployment and a widening budget deficit.
The government will also have to tackle the legacy of decades of corruption and red tape and a costly subsidy system – fuel subsidies alone cost the state nearly $19 billion a year.
Mehleb said ministers will provide him with a weekly plan that he will review at meetings with his cabinet, which he said was chosen after interviews with more than 90 candidates for the various ministerial portfolios.
The new cabinet includes 34 ministers, of whom 14 were newly appointed. Just four of the ministers are women.
“I swear by God to sincerely protect the republican system, to respect the constitution and law and take full care of the people’s interests, protect the independence of the nation and the unity and safety of its lands,” Mehleb said at the early morning ceremony at the presidential palace in Cairo.
His cabinet includes veteran banker Ashraf Salman as investment minister. His appointment, and the creation of a separate investment ministry, reverses a decision earlier this year to merge the ministry with that of industry and trade.
Salman, a US-educated investment banker is the co-founder and co-CEO of Cairo Financial Holding, an Egyptian asset management, corporate finance and investment banking firm.
He previously held a senior position at Arab African International Bank-Egypt and has worked on privatisation policies, according to the Cairo Financial Holding website.
Other new faces in the government include former ambassador to Washington Sameh Shukri, who was appointed foreign minister, and Naglaa El Ahwany, a university professor who was named minister for international cooperation.
But most ministers are holdovers from the previous regime, including the ministers for finance, defence, interior, planning, oil, electricity, supplies and communications.
Keeping the cabinet largely intact could allow Sisi to quickly implement the kind of reforms urged by the United Arab Emirates, which, along with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, gave billions of dollars in aid after Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was ousted by Sisi and the army last July.