Egypt’s military-installed government resigned en masse on Monday in a surprise move ahead of a presidential poll likely to bring defense minister and army chief, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, to power.
A limited reshuffle to allow al-Sisi to step down as Egpytian defense minister and enter elections had been expected, but the across-the-board resignations led by the increasingly unpopular Egpytian prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi surprised some in the Cabinet.
Appointed in July last year after the military ousted former Egpytian president Mohamed Morsi, Beblawi’s government came under pressure to step aside amid a worsening economy and a spate of militant attacks and labor strikes.
The resignations might lead to a new Cabinet without the baggage of Beblawi’s government ahead of al-Sisi’s expected run in the presidential election this spring.
Al-Sisi, who emerged as the country’s most popular political figure after ending Morsi’s divisive one-year rule, has not yet announced his candidacy, but aides say he has already decided to run and will make the announcement soon.
The Egpytian field marshal, who is also the first deputy prime minister in the outgoing Cabinet, has to resign from the government and the army before he can officially announce his candidacy.
Beblawi defended the government’s performance in an address announcing the resignations.
“The government assumed its responsibilities and duties ... the government did not spare any efforts to get Egypt out of a bad phase,” Beblawi said.
“This is not the time for personal interests. The nation is above everybody,” he added.
The Cabinet said in a statement it resigned “in light of the current situation that the country is going through.”
The mass resignations could have been triggered by the pressure on Beblawi himself to step down.
“If the prime minister resigns, then the whole Cabinet resigns,” Cairo University political science professor Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid said.
The resignations could work in al-Sisi’s favor, he added.
“If Field Marshal al-Sisi decides to run, he would like to run with a government that has a good reputation and can help him by resolving some of the urgent problems faced by the people,” al-Sayyid said.
Later on Monday, interim Egyptian president Adly Mansor praised Beblawi for accepting the prime minister’s responsibility at a “critical and difficult time following the glorious June 30th revolution.”
“He assumed this role at a time when the burden of the nation’s problems, which had accumulated over decades, was immense, both in terms of economic deterioration and marginalization of a number of different segments of society,” Mansour said in a statement as he accepted the government’s resignation.
Government spokesman Hany Saleh told reporters that Monday’s decision was taken because there was a “feeling that new blood is needed.”
The government’s resignation came as Hamdeen Sabbahi, a prominent candidate for the election, told reporters he fears a return to autocracy in Egypt three years after its Arab Spring uprising.
While his chances of winning against al-Sisi are seen as slim, Sabbahi said he was urged to run by the young people who led the 2011 uprising that toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
They “feel that their revolution was being stolen ... as their comrades were being jailed and some killed before their eyes,” he said in an interview.