Following the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi’s government, Egypt’s newly appointed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb is tasked with what seems to be a mission impossible. The new PM indeed faces several humbling challenges on various fronts but despite his good intentions and flowery promises, he is as likely to flop. However, to define success and failure, one must frame these in light of set objectives and critical success factors. Upon his appointment, Mehleb has proclaimed that his main aims are to wipe out militant violence and improve the economy. Mehleb might as well have thrown in restoring world peace as one of his objectives! Cynicism aside, here is a quick look as to why this cabinet is likely to be doomed to failure.
Albert Einstein has once said that you can’t solve a problem with the same minds that created it. That saying seems to be very pertinent in our case.
At least 15-18 ministers from the cabinet of outgoing Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi will retain their positions in the newly formed cabinet. Further, with 12 ministries merged into 6, the new cabinet will be very much similar to the old one. Now let’s take a look once again at Mehleb’s stated priorities: security and economy. On the security front, both Minister of Interior General Mohamed Ibrahim and Army Chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi will likely keep their positions. On the economy front, the ministers of Planning and International Cooperation, Industry, Trade and Investment, Petroleum and Tourism are all likely to keep their positions. Now, if this cabinet change doesn’t seem decorative, I am not sure what else is!
“Out of the box thinking” has been the buzzword in every cabinet reshuffle. There are always talks about how Egypt needs some fresh ideas on how to resolve age old problems. This time is no different. While the new cabinet has not been sworn in as of this very moment, talks of fresh ideas and creative solutions are already starting to surface. Even old faces are already talking about how they have solutions to resolve persisting problems. Egypt needs no magic wand and there isn’t a miracle drug that would make all the worries go away. As said before, Egypt needs a detailed long term plan for development; no amount of fresh ideas or quick fixes will ever alone suffice. The problem in the past three years has been all about lack of long term vision and lousy execution. The current cabinet is destined to be short lived by design. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to bring about much needed structural changes. So while Mehleb can continue talking about the economy, it is all likely to be lip service.
The real priorities
There is no doubt that general public dissatisfaction with the performance of El-Beblawi’s government has brought it down. As the country approaches the presidential elections which is a key milestone on the transition roadmap, the current transitional leadership could certainly use a facelift to help polish its image ahead of this important step. So while there are publicly stated priorities, the reality is all about the next two months and how to pave the road for smooth presidential elections. So the real priorities remain all about appeasing the public rather than bringing about any real change. So under this reality, it is also less likely that any tough choices will be made.
The new cabinet will be facing an increasing wave of strikes that has crept over the past few months. The cabinet will also be burdened with the continued implementation of the minimum wage which was approved last fall but has still not yet gone in effect; all this against the backdrop of soaring inflation and ever increasing public expectations. In the midst of it all, Mehleb is expected to deliver and continue solving problems. But at the end, it is as Ronald Reagan once noted: “Government does not solve problems; it subsidises them”.