By Samer Al-Atrush /AFP
CAIRO: Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Monday postponed the swearing-in of a new cabinet intended to deflect anger over the pace of reform as protesters said the shakeup did not go far enough.
Sharaf, who heads a caretaker government after a revolt toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak in February, had hoped the sweeping reshuffle would persuade the protesters to end a 10-day-old sit-in at Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square.
But the protesters complained that the new cabinet retains ministers they wanted sacked, including Justice Minister Abdel Aziz Al-Gindi, whom they accuse of delaying trials of former regime officials, including Mubarak.
Mubarak, who was forced to resign as president after a nationwide revolt, was said by his lawyer on Sunday to have slipped into a coma in a Red Sea resort hospital where he has been under arrest since April.
But hospital officials in Sharm El-Sheikh denied the 83-year-old former leader, who is receiving treatment for a heart condition, was in a coma. Mubarak and his two sons face murder and corruption charges and their trial is scheduled for August 3.
A hospital official told the state-run MENA news agency that Mubarak’s health was “stable” on Monday.
Fourteen new ministers and a deputy premier had been expected to take their oaths office before Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads the ruling military, but state television announced that the ceremony had been postponed until Tuesday.
“The government of Sharaf will take the constitutional oath tomorrow (Tuesday) to allow for the completion of negotiations,” state-run Nile Television reported.
The new cabinet will include former World Bank official Mohammed Kamel Amr as foreign minister and veteran economist Hazem El-Beblawi, who will serve as finance minister as well as deputy premier for economic affairs.
The shakeup removed the controversial and powerful antiquities minister Zahi Hawass, who was credited abroad with reviving interest in Egyptian antiquity sites but criticized at home for his close ties with the Mubaraks.
His announced replacement, Abdel Fatah El-Banna, has already come under fire from antiquities officials and Sharaf was reconsidering, MENA reported.
Sharaf also appointed a leading member of the liberal Wafd Party, Ali Al-Silmi as his second deputy on political affairs.
El-Beblawi, a former undersecretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, is to oversee economic policy in the new cabinet, MENA reported. El-Silmi is to handle “democratic transition” issues.
Ministers announced by Sharaf on Sunday include Lotfi Mostafa Kamal for civil aviation, Ali Zein El-Abedine Heikal for transportation, Ali Ibrahim Sabry for military production, Amr Helmy for health, Moataz Khorshid for higher education, Hazem Abdel-Azim for telecom, Mohamed Abdel-Fadil for religious endowments, Mohamed Attia for local development, and Salah El-Sayed Youssef Farag for agriculture.
The state-run online news portal egynews.net reported on Monday that Hesham Mohamed Qandil was named for the irrigation and water resources ministry.
Thirteen ministers from the previous cabinet, appointed in March after mass protests to replace Mubarak’s last government, retained their posts, including Interior Minister Mansour El-Essawy, whose resignation the protesters had demanded.
“We want a change of all the government,” said Sharif Ali, a member of the April 6 youth group that helped organize the 18-day revolt that ended Mubarak’s three-decade rule.
Ali, who said he and other protesters in Tahrir Square had no intention of leaving, insisted that other demands — such as the speedy trials of Mubarak and police officers implicated in protester killings during the revolt — had yet to be met.
In Alexandria, protesters staging a sit-in in Saed Zaghloul square rejected the ministerial changes and called for a mass demonstration for Friday, MENA reported.
Dozens of protesters in the canal city of Suez also refused to end their sit-in, an AFP correspondent reported.
While some of the new ministers were known to activists, with several said to have joined protesters in Tahrir during the revolt, others had little recognition before their appointment.
“Nobody knows some of these names,” said another activist, Bola Abdu.
The sit-in at the square, the epicenter of the revolt that overthrew Mubarak, began after tens of thousands of people held a demonstration on July 8 calling for speedier reforms.
The protesters risk the enmity of other Egyptians who want the square vacated, accusing the demonstrators of slowing down the country’s economic recovery.
Fundamentalist Islamist groups have called for a large demonstration on Friday to demand “stability,” Egyptian newspapers reported, but the leading Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood said it would not take part.
Egypt has seen a sharp decline in tourism and increased unemployment since the revolt, and investors remain jittery over sporadic and at times deadly unrest in the Arab world’s most populous country. –Additional reporting by Daily News Egypt.