By Rania Al Malky
As the lunatic next door threatens to exterminate his detractors, accusing them of popping hallucinogenic pills, referring to them as rodents and germs and boorishly thinking that a 150 percent salary increase will send Libyans home after he waged an all-out war against his own people, the battle for democracy in Egypt continues to rage on.
Like a cancer patient following the surgical removal of a malicious tumor, Egypt now is at its most vulnerable state in an intensive care unit that is fearfully brimming with viruses.
Talk of a counter-revolution orchestrated by ousted president Hosni Mubarak from Sharm El-Sheikh has shaken confidence in a transition towards true democracy as the remnants of a hated regime continue to assert their power, albeit in a new mantle. Despite assurances by members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, whose honest and genuine demeanor captured people’s hearts and minds in their first ever media appearance earlier this week on Dream TV, fears that things are not what they seem have spread, but not without good reason.
First, a look at the “new-but-old” cabinet is enough to inspire trepidation. In addition to the fact that Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who has been in cabinet since 2002 as the minister of civil aviation, still heads the executive body despite the popular rejection of any figures associated with the old regime, there are many question marks around the appointment of the new cabinet members and the retention of the previous ones.
A rundown of Mubarak’s last appointments, days before stepping down, include:
Fathi ElBaradei, Minister of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development. ElBaradei, according to Ahram Online, was an NDP MP from 1995-2000 and was appointed governor of Dumiat in 2004. According to a report on Al-Ahram Weekly (November 2010) his son Mohamed was an NDP candidate in Gharbiya governorate for the professionals seat.
Abdullah El-Husseini, Minister of Religious Endowments, was appointed by Mubarak as President of Al-Azhar University in 2010 to replace Ahmed El-Tayeb who was named the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar. Although I cannot speak of his loyalty, his affiliation to the old regime is uncontested.
Mahmoud Wagdy, Minister of Interior, used to be the director of the Prison Authority. If the deplorable state of Egypt’s prisons, which has been the subject of numerous reports by local and international human rights groups, are anything to go by, then it is difficult to trust that Wagdy’s performance will be far removed from his past performance. Recently, his inability to impose law and order, to bring back the police force and put an end to the lawlessness that has tainted the country over the past three weeks as well as the shocking reports of the shooting of prisoners in Shebin El-Kom and Al-Qatta prisons does not bode well.
Mohsin El-Numani, Minister of Local Development, was curiously a senior figure in Egypt’s intelligence services and was part of the negotiating team of the Israel-Palestine peace talks, then awarded post of Sohag governor in 2008, again according to Ahram Online. Read a link with Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who was briefly named Vice President and whose position is now unknown.
These are just four of ten ministers who were appointed by Mubarak before he stepped down. Add to this list the seven previous ministers who were not replaced (those holding the vital portfolios of defense, electricity and energy, international cooperation, foreign affairs, military production, environment and justice) and you’ve got a total of 17 out of 27 – almost half – ministers who have either been in office or have held positions in the past government for between five to 20 years, the longest-standing of which is Minister of Defense Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has been in office since 1991 and is currently heading the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
As for the brand new appointments that were sworn in this week, one cannot help but question the random nature of their choice, which has led to the strong impression that the patchwork of new faces is all part of a band aid solution to quell the inflamed sentiments of the Egyptian street.
The new Minister of Trade and Industry Samir Youssef El-Sayed, for instance, used to be Egypt’s Cultural attaché in London. And to add to the mystery of the choice, he is the chairman and managing director of Pachin, a publicly traded private company specialized in paints manufacturing, and according to its own website, has the biggest sales volume in Egypt. So whatever happened to the “no businessmen” rule?
Two of the “new” ministers, Amr Ezzat Salama of Scientific Research and Ahmed Gamal El Din Moussa of education, actually used to hold the same positions in 2004-5 and have both been reappointed.
The token appointment of Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, the first member of Al-Wafd Party to hold a cabinet position in 59 years, and the leftist ex-Taggammu party member economist Gouda Abdel Khalek, as minister of social solidarity, may be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand it gives the impression that the current cabinet has embraced some elements representing a different vision, but on the other, without full coordination with the rest of the cabinet, their transformational role will be highly limited.
Beyond particular names and faces, it is paramount that the activities of the current cabinet come under the microscope of public scrutiny and its members must act with absolute transparency. This cabinet is no more than a caretaker government that will change in six months following legislative and presidential elections. Their role in this vital interim period consists mainly of purging their respective ministries of the corruption that has infiltrated them to the core. Unless this process starts now on the level of national government and spreads to all levels of local governance and local councils, it will be impossible to achieve the fundamental change that the January 25 Revolution has come to symbolize.
One of the reasons Egyptians went out en masse demanding the fall of the regime was that the authorities constantly insulted people’s intelligence, infantilized the public and treated citizens with condescension and arrogance.
To those in positions of power on the one month anniversary of a revolution that captured people’s imagination everywhere, those days are long gone.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.