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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Egypt's cautious reshuffle

By Heba Saleh
BBC correspondent in Cairo

The Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak has presided over the swearing-in ceremony of a new government which includes younger reform-minded faces brought in to breathe new life into the stagnant economy.

Ahmed Nazif
Nazif is one of Egypt's youngest prime ministers
Mr Mubarak told the 34-member cabinet its main tasks were to improve the quality of life for Egyptians, increase their earnings and modernise the performance of the bureaucracy.

It may be a daunting challenge, but the new government was deliberately chosen with an economic reform agenda in mind.

The economy has been in the doldrums for years.

Foreign investment has fallen, bread lines have reappeared and prices have risen sharply after the devaluation of the currency early last year.

Mubarak the younger

At 52, the new Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif, is one of the youngest ever to have headed a government in Egypt.

A modernising technocrat, he served in the previous cabinet as communication minister and is credited with having opened up and energised the telecoms and the information technology sector in Egypt.

Some of the 14 new ministers in his cabinet are linked to Gamal Mubarak, the reform-minded son of the Egyptian president who, many believe, is being groomed to succeed his father.

The president has repeatedly denied that there are any such plans, but the appointment of ministers seen as close to his son, is bound to further fuel the speculation.

The younger Mr Mubarak heads the Policies Committee in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

He has been spearheading efforts to modernise the party and turn it into an incubator for policies to be implemented by the government, rather than just a machine for dispensing patronage.

He has also brought into the committee reformist academics, experts and businessmen whose profiles and backgrounds contrast sharply with those of the civil servants and party fixers traditionally associated with the NDP.

No radical departure

The new government includes at least three NDP associates of Gamal Mubarak, who are to form its core economic team.

Gamal Mubarak
Gamal: Groomed to succeed his father?
They include Rashid Mohammed Rashid a former senior executive of Unilever, now minister of industry and international trade, and economist Mahmoud Mohieddin, a dynamic 39-year-old reformer who is to head a newly-created ministry for investment.

Businessmen and diplomats have welcomed their appointment, describing them as a strong team who, supported by Finance Minister, Youssef Boutros Ghali, should be able to co-ordinate their policies in ways which have evaded previous governments.

The reshuffle has also seen the exit from government of the two longest-serving ministers under President Mubarak.

They have been stalwarts of the regime and important fixers in the NDP.

One of them, the former Information Minister, Safwat al-Sherif, is still the secretary general of the party.

But the reshuffle does not signal a radical change in direction.

Twenty ministers from the previous government have been confirmed in their post indicating that there will be continuity of policy in most areas.

Extreme caution has been a hallmark of the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, and he still makes all the key political and economic decisions.

Call for reform

The choice of ministers suggests that economic reform may be on the cards, but, as some newspapers and opposition politicians have lamented, political change is clearly not part of the mandate of Mr Nazif and his cabinet.

Addressing the new prime minister in a newspaper column, the chairman of the left wing Taggamu party, Refaat Said, wrote:

"Your experience and technical abilities can help you establish information networks and other such tools, but political vacuum, the absence of democratic rights, bypassing public opinion and rigging elections... all these are capable of aborting any attempt at modernisation."

The Egyptian opposition has been calling for changes to the constitution to introduce direct elections for the post of president and they also want to limit the presidential mandate to two consecutive terms.

So far, there are no signs that any such reforms are on the way.

But to many people the issue has become pressing especially since it is not clear yet who might succeed President Mubarak.

The current speculation focuses on his son Gamal, or the head of military intelligence, General Omar Sulaiman.


SEE ALSO:
Mubarak swears in new government
14 Jul 04 |  Middle East
Economic reformers rise in Egypt
14 Jul 04 |  Business
Egypt's Mubarak appoints new PM
10 Jul 04 |  Middle East
Mubarak denies succession reports
01 Jan 04 |  Middle East
Country profile: Egypt
09 Jul 04 |  Country profiles
Profile: Egypt's great survivor
24 Nov 03 |  Africa


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