Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Egypt's Cabinet fuels succession rumor

YOUNGER FACES The son of the Egyptian president has close ties to at least seven members of the new Cabinet, but not everybody sees this as a prelude to real reform


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak swore in a new Cabinet yesterday, the seventh in his 22 years in power, welcoming a group that includes economic-minded reformists close to Mubarak's son and widely speculated successor.

Mubarak, with new Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief, held his first meeting with the 34 ministers of the new Cabinet, in which a new investment ministry was created and younger faces were introduced, at a presidential palace in suburban Cairo.

The new Cabinet is challenged by a myriad of economic problems, an increasingly frustrated population, and external pressure on the regional heavyweight to shake things up.

Nazief, a former communications and information technology minister, was chosen on Friday by Mubarak to form the government. At 52, he will be one of Egypt's youngest prime ministers.

Nazief has promised to focus on unemployment issues -- officially put at 10 percent -- and to find "unconventional" solutions to Egypt's problems.

The president's son, Gamal Mubarak, a 41-year-old investment banker who moved up in the ruling party to head the powerful policy committee in 2002, has promised political and economic reform.

At least seven of the 34 Cabinet members are on Gamal's committee -- and analysts say that will give them a better chance at dealing with bureaucracy, economic stagnation and lack of foreign investment in the country of 70 million. Others say the change only brings Gamal one step closer to power.

He and his father have denied he is being groomed for succession, but Gamal has said he cannot stop people from nominating him for president.

Al Arabi, a weekly opposition newspaper, declared the regime to be "The government of Gamal Mubarak."

"Gamal Mubarak ... is the mover of things. He brings things together. Now we need people to work," said Gehad Auda, a political scientist and a member of Gamal's policy committee. The committee represents "the new elite that is ruling Egypt."

Of the 34 ministers, 20 remain from the previous government. All the 14 new faces are technocrats drawn from the business world and academia.

Nazief consolidated the ministries of foreign trade and industry into one that is headed by Rashid Mohammed Rashid, a 49-year-old businessman. He created an investment ministry headed by the youngest face in the new Cabinet, Mahmoud Mohieddin, a 39-year-old economist.

Bringing foreign trade and industry under one roof is seen as a sign that the government, long-pressed to improve exports, is finally moving. In addition, Rashid, Mohieddin and Youssef Boutros Ghali, moving from foreign trade to finance, are considered Gamal Mubarak's lieutenants.

"This new government brings a flower from every garden: university deans, businesspeople, professionals and experts. For the first time, we are trying to do things in a coordinated way," Auda said.

Some of Egypt's old guard, blamed for much of the stalling in implementing reforms, were replaced or lost power in the new Cabinet. Two ministers in government for 20 years -- outgoing Agriculture Minister Youssef Waly, known for his trade ties with Israel, and outgoing Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif -- left the Cabinet.

The key ministers of defense and interior retained their posts in the new Cabinet, but the foreign ministry went to Egypt's envoy to the UN, Ahmed Abu el Gheit.

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