Under-fire PM pushes on with cabinet reshuffle

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CAIRO: Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was Monday finalizing a cabinet reshuffle aimed at deflecting anger at the slow pace of reform, while officials denied former president Hosni Mubarak was in a coma.

The prime minister, who heads a caretaker government after a revolt toppled Mubarak in February, on Sunday began unveiling a new cabinet he hopes will end a week-long sit-in in central Cairo.

Fifteen new ministers are expected to be named in the shake-up, which is being seen as a purge of those with links to the ousted president.

Sharaf on Sunday appointed Mohammed Kamel Amr as the new foreign minister in the place of Mohamed Al-Oraby, who resigned late on Saturday.

Amr was previously Egypt’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and has worked at the World Bank.

The 15 ministers, including two new deputy premiers, were to be sworn in later on Monday in front of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads the military council that took power when Mubarak was ousted, the official MENA news agency reported.

Sharaf chose one of his two newly appointed deputies, Hazem El-Beblawi, to serve as finance minister, state television reported. El-Beblawi, a veteran economist, takes over from Samir Radwan.

The interior, justice, tourism, culture and education portfolios are expected to remain unchanged.

Late on Saturday, the premier said he had accepted the resignation of foreign minister Mohammed El-Orabi — criticized for being close to Mubarak — amid pressure to rid the cabinet of old regime figures.

The announcement of Orabi’s resignation on state media came hours after Sharaf appointed El-Beblawi and Ali El-Silmi, a leader of the liberal Wafd party, as his deputies.

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.

Abdel-Fatah El-Banna replaced Zahi Hawass, a long time supporter of Mubarak, as minister of antiquities. He has been accused of corruption by several small protests with the Supreme Council of Antiquities that he chaired and the ministry.

The state-run online news portal egynews.net reported on Monday that Hesham Mohamed Qandil was named for the irrigation and water resources ministry.

Sharaf has come under fire from dissidents, who once embraced him, for the slow pace of reforms since the revolt and for his limited powers under military rule.

Hundreds of protesters who pitched tents in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square stayed put, although some protesters suspended a hunger strike after negotiations with military representatives, state media reported.

The sit-in in the iconic square, epicenter of the 18-day revolt that overthrew Mubarak, began after tens of thousands of people held a demonstration on July 8 calling for speedier reforms.

They also want an end to what they say are delays in trying former regime officials responsible for killings during the revolt and a coherent transition to civilian rule, which the military has promised after parliamentary and presidential elections.

The armed forces Supreme Council also issued a statement on its Facebook page late on Saturday promising to restrict military trials to cases of rape, assaults on police and armed assaults.

One of the protesters’ key demands is an end to military trials of civilians, which have become the norm since Mubarak’s ouster.

Having already ordered the sacking of hundreds of senior interior ministry officials, Sharaf hopes the new cabinet will satisfy the activists while helping the country recover economically.

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.

Egypt’s health ministry meanwhile denied a report that Mubarak had fallen into a “full coma,” two weeks before he is due to go on trial for murder and corruption.

“The former president is in a full coma after his health suddenly deteriorated,” state television on Sunday quoted Mubarak’s lawyer as saying.

But Deputy Health Minister Adel Adawi denied the 83-year-old toppled leader had gone into a coma.

“The condition of former president Mubarak is stable and he is still being treated in his room on the third floor of Sharm El-Sheikh International Hospital,” Adawi told MENA.

Earlier, the head of the hospital in the Red Sea resort where Mubarak has been treated since April denied that the former strongman had gone into a coma, state TV reported. –Additional reporting by Daily News Egypt.



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