By Alia Assam
All hopes for the appointment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s powerful icon, Khayrat Al-Shatiron, to the head of the cabinet came to an end with President Morsy’s selection of Hesham Qandil to be the Second Republic’s first Prime Minister. While most revolutionary political movements have not commented whether in favour or support of the newly-appointed cabinet head, the dimensions of this decision require a careful analysis.
The first indication revolves around the political neutrality of the new government, which has been ascertained by the appointment of Qandil. He falls more into the category of a technocrat than a politicised Prime Minister. While the fact that Qandil is bearded may pose questions on his the religious affiliation, there is no record that he has ever participated in any political activism, or that he has ever held a membership in any official or unofficial political body. The crux of the point lies in the importance of prioritising internal stability at this critical stage, and the mitigation of political divisionism that could well result from a government with a partisan agenda.
The second indication comes from Qandil’s age and professional background. Successive Egyptian governments during Mubarak’s era were typically headed by senile Prime Ministers, as could be objectively stated. Having an almost 50 year-old Prime Minister suggests that Morsy’s policy will be more towards a dependence on relatively young technocrats, qualified and acquainted with administrative and managerial roles. These two conditions apply to Qandil, who was appointed as the Minister of Irrigation and Water Surfaces by Essam Sharaf in July 2011, and retained his post during Kamal Al-Ganzouri’s cabinet.
Considering Egypt’s foreign policy priorities, the presence of Qandil on the head of the government represents an extremely positive reform. Since the 1994 failed assassination attempt on Mubarak in Addis Ababa, the ousted president did not conduct a single diplomatic visit to the Nile headwaters’ countries. This has twisted Egypt’s list of foreign priorities, by putting the top national security issue, which is the relation with the Nile basin countries, at the tail, through a single accident. The deterioration in diplomatic ties between Egypt and the Nile basin countries, especially Ethiopia, form which almost 75% of Egypt’s water supplies come from, reached their lowest point before 25 January 2012.
As a Minister of Irrigation, Qandil is believed to be the architect of a new phase of relations between Egypt and its largest Nile basin partner, Ethiopia. This was demonstrated by his coordination of Morsy’s latest visit to Addis Ababa, which was regarded by many as a historical turning point which restored the Nile waters crisis to the top of Egypt’s foreign policy agenda.
While it is premature to draw conclusions after only hours of Qandil’s assumption of the post of prime minister, the primary indications hold some legitimacy and can only be confirmed or rejected following what the formation of the ministerial cabinet will reveal in the coming days.