Egypt's president reshuffles government, key posts unchanged
Mar. 23, 2016
CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reshuffled his government on Wednesday, replacing nine ministers, including for the finance and investment portfolios, but leaving the key ministries of defense, foreign affairs and interior untouched.
The shake-up comes as Egypt's economy is reeling from five years of unrest and a severe slump in the vital tourism sector. The government recently devalued the currency, causing a surge in prices that could further erode support for el-Sissi, who led the overthrow of an elected Islamist president in 2013 and had vowed to revive the economy and restore investor confidence.
Egyptian security forces are meanwhile bogged down in a draining fight against Islamic militants, and a sweeping crackdown on dissent has fed international criticism of the country's human rights record. The abduction, torture and killing of an Italian doctoral student has brought heightened scrutiny to police -- who deny any involvement -- and strained ties with Europe.
El-Sissi signaled his support for the police by keeping the interior minister in place, and he defended his own record since being elected president in 2014, saying he had been forced to make tough decisions.
"I am responsible for 90 million people and I am careful to strike a balance between the nation's security and stability on the one hand and safeguarding rights and freedoms on the other," he was quoted as saying by the media on Wednesday.
Egyptian authorities rarely share with the public the reasons behind sacking ministers.
But the Cabinet changes appeared to reflect the wide-ranging challenges el-Sissi has faced. The nine ministers who were sacked included those who had been in charge of finance and investment, who were replaced with figures drawn from the private sector. The ministers for water resources, tourism, transport, civil aviation and antiquities were also replaced. A business sector portfolio was created to encourage startups.
El-Sissi has staked his reputation on a high-energy, one-man drive to improve the economy, promising Egyptians a better future while frequently urging them to work harder. He has often complained that the state spends too much on subsidies for basic goods like food and fuel but, perhaps fearing widespread unrest, has been extremely cautious when talking about lifting or significantly reducing them.
"Nations are built by sweat and hard work alone," he said in a meeting Tuesday with a group of writers and prominent intellectuals.
El-Sissi swore in the 10 new ministers at the presidential al-Ittihadiyah palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, according to state television. The reshuffle is the first since September, when el-Sissi named Sherif Ismail prime minister at the head of a new 33-seat government. Ismail remains in his post.
The replacement of the water minister follows the lack of any tangible progress in drawn-out negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction of a massive dam on the Nile that will likely affect Cairo's share of the river.
A change in leadership at the Ministry of Civil Aviation comes less than five months after a Russian airliner crashed over the Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Russia said the crash, which killed all 224 people on board, was caused by an explosive device, and the Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for downing the plane.
Responding to charges of lax security and negligence, Egypt has since tightened checks at airports and hired a Britain-based company to train Egyptian staff on airport security.
The Oct. 31 crash decimated Egypt's already slumping tourism sector, with Russia suspending all flights to Egypt and Britain halting flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.