Ministries in Egypt are more of an apprentice who follows all of its employer’s commands and bears all consequences if those commands result in a crisis or a problem. The president’s group, formed over time, does not become part of the cabinet or secretarial staff nor do they play the role of the apprentice. They are more like workers at a bakery. Those who are important to the employer’s bakery keep their jobs, they are never sacrificed.
We can interpret from above why ministers are never chosen from the president’s inner circle. They are instead always chosen from the ruling class, which we saw in ministries following the uprisings. After the 25 January Revolution, individuals affiliated with former president Hosni Mubarak were chosen as ministers, as it happened during Mubarak’s era where personals affiliated with the late president Anwar Sadat emerged.
This continuity of the secretariat group reflects the continuation of the 1952 system itself. We can never see Sadat affiliates in Mubarak’s group. You can then foresee that Mubarak’s group will not show up. People such as Mubarak’s former chief of staff Zakariya Azmy and former speaker of the Shura Council Safwat Al-Sherif cannot be included in President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s era. However, people such as former interim president Ibrahim Mehleb can continue. Mehleb was the son of the loyal ruling class but not part of the ruling group.
The president’s group may see a rift and it could grow over time. It can almost reach a point of dual authority between the president and one other powerful person,, most likely to be head of the military. That said, this rift will soon enough be resolved each time in favour of the president. It happened in the late president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s group, which was born with two heads; Nasser and his then vice president Abdel Hakim Amer.
Although Nasser was the strongest, Amer had significant influence, and at times different ideas. He ordered the arrest of a number of senior leaders of the Socialist Union and the vanguard organisation in 1966. The detainees were kept in jail for 24 hours and were only released when Nasser himself knew about the incident and intervened to order their release.
That same situation recurred between Mubarak and former minister of defence Mohamed Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala, keeping in mind that the latter was not as powerful as Amer. But let’s also say that Mubarak was not as strong as Nasser.
This rift, which sometimes is created with the start of a formation of a clique or group – or can be inherited in other times- pushed Mubarak to make rapid and successive changes of all military leaders, while retaining Mohamed Tantawi as Defence Minister for 20 years, due to his loyalty to Mubarak. Some believe that Tantawi was kept because he was the first Nubian in Egypt’s modern history to take a leading position at the army. Therefore, Tantawi was very grateful to Mubarak.
More can be said about the president and the army in the 1952 family. Here, we only highlighted the fact there were not as many rifts, and they left no impact until it was between the president and the head of military. We should not confuse “overthrowing” the old group in favour of building a new junta and the rift that affects the same group, which was built by the President or inherited by him. It is often hard to differentiate between overthrowing the other pole as part of the old junta and overthrowing an actor of the new group. A good example of this confusion can been seen in the overthrowing of Abu Ghazala.
If we want to go back to the issue of ministerial changes and the role of the 1952 family; let us note that Mubarak’s era, which spanned for more than 30 years, only saw eight ministries, four of which ruled over 25 years. This may explain why Mubarak’s regime was called the era of deadlock and why demands for change always seemed more pressing. Mubarak seemed very keen to achieve what he considered stability. For him, this did not mean the stability of the legislation and laws governing the economic scene, as we lived in a period which can be described as a “legislative unrest” in terms of the economy.
However, to Mubarak it meant political stability. In practice, it meant to keep the Atef Sedki cabinet, for example, for 10 years. To absorb the calls for change, Mubarak put other practices in action, such as meeting with party leaders every so often, holding conferences for national dialogue, or even allowing opposition forces to express themselves through professional or civil society organisations and trade unions.
In addition, Mubarak let those calls for change emerge and allowed some political movements to appear and protest. This happened as a result of conflicts among the ruling group and even within the junta itself, particularly later in Mubarak’s era. All of these methods have not solved the problem of the general sense of the need for change – or any change.
It explains the extent of people’s demonstrations against him on 25 January 2011. People had reached a state of despair, disgust, and depression as a result of this deadlock recession that the 1952 family used to soften through successive ministerial changes.
Now, let us ask ourselves: if the cabinet reshuffle of 1952 does not reflect any significant change, why are senior writers and intellectuals interested in answering questions of journalists concerning the reason behind the Mehleb cabinet reshuffle, or why Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was appointed?
I think what those writers and thinkers do is precisely the goal of the cabinet reshuffle. To explain the issue, attracting the public’s attention to the matter and building hopes on what this cabinet reshuffle can achieve in terms of justice or freedom is exactly the point of the cabinet reshuffle.
In general, we can say that the writers and thinkers who care about explaining belong to one of two teams; the hypocrites’ battalion who try to interrogate the president, or one of his aides, about the significance of this change in order to emphasise it. Or even to put it in a theoretical framework that confirms the wisdom of the president, and his bias towards the people, his “feeling of the pulse of the people”, and other similar things commonly said in this regard.
The funny thing is that Al-Sisi did not make the remarks that hypocrites need, so it was noticeable how they started to interpret some facts, trying to provide explanations. Some of them claimed that the spread of corruption within Mehleb’s government was the reason behind the change, so Ismail came to fight corruption. Others put forth that the inefficiency was the reason for the dismissal.
The other team are those with good intentions; some belong to intellectuals, writers, and analysts and some belong to political groups. Most just belong to the broad political public. All those lured to search for the reason behind the dismissal and appointment, not according to the thoughts of the president, but their thoughts, according to their wishes, aspirations, dreams, and visions of the crisis and its solution.
Those who considered corruption as the enemy believed that corruption was the reason for the dismissal. And those who considered lack of efficiency to be the problem, considered it as the reason for the change. Their wishes were projected onto reality but in general, both teams compete to present explanations.
While the first team’s motivation was to try to understand Al-Sisi’s desire, the second team’s motivation was its own desires and aspirations. What seems clear though is that both of them seemed to depend merely on intuition, or conjecture, without relying on confirmed information.
In my opinion, I am not required, as a political analyst or a politician, to speculate or guess, which I have avoided when I was asked questions by journalists and friends.
Those who dismissed Mehleb should explain why he was dismissed and those who appointed Ismail should also explain to us, as politicians and analysts, why he was hired. Only then can we react to the proclaimed reasons.
It is funny that many of those who started speculating, despite their intentions, were disappointed because Al-Sisi praised Mehleb many times in many ways, without giving any signs or hints to either confirm or deny their speculations. Some of the speculations even went so far as to launch accusations at Mehleb, but Al-Sisi defended him many times. Perhaps this reminds us – taking the difference into account – of old movies, where the master sacrificed the scullery boy only when it was necessary. He was always careful and keen to protect him and defend him whenever possible.