A presidential decree appointed youth minister Anas al-Faqi to head the information ministry on Tuesday while incumbent information minister Mamduh al-Baltaji was handed the youth portfolio.

No official reason was given for the sudden ministerial swap, which came just months before a parliamentary vote on Mubarak's nomination for a fifth mandate.

Under the Egyptian political system, parliament will elect a single candidate for the presidency in May, whose name will then be put to a referendum in September or October.

Al-Baltaji's removal from the information ministry - the government's main propaganda tool - coincided with unprecedented campaigns by the opposition against a renewal of Mubarak's mandate.

Calls for reform

Opposition leaders have long called for constitutional reform to pave the way for the president to be chosen from a list of candidates by universal suffrage, as well as for a reduction of presidential powers.

Al-Baltaji, a former tourism minister, was appointed information minister in a July cabinet reshuffle that saw at least seven members of the ruling party's policies' committee headed by Mubarak's son, Jamal, appointed as ministers.

His relegation to the youth ministry could suggest dissatisfaction among the political leadership with his performance in countering growing opposition to Mubarak's rule.

The information ministry is set to play a crucial role in the re-election of the president.