The first Egyptian minister to wear the Islamic headscarf was also installed on Saturday.

The appointment of Aysha Abdel-Hadi Abdel-Ghani - a veteran trade unionist and senior member of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic party (NDP) - as minister of labour was seen as a gesture to those who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood in the recent parliamentary elections.

The reshuffle comes three weeks after Mubarak's NDP won more than two-thirds of the seats in month-long parliamentary elections and the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood won a fifth of the seats and increased its presence in parliament about sixfold.

Significant changes

In the two other significant changes, Mohammad Mansour, an auto industry tycoon and former head of the American-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce, and Amin Abaza, a major player in the cotton industry, were appointed ministers of transport and agriculture, respectively.

That was a clear signal that Mubarak planned to maintain a business-friendly administration.

Ahmed Nazif kept his position as
prime minister

Ahmed Nazif retained his post as prime minister, as did fellow heavyweights Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defence minister, Habib el-Adly, the interior minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the foreign minister and Youssef Boutros Ghali, the finance minister and one of two Christians.

The re-appointment of el-Adly showed Mubarak's support for the harsh methods the interior ministry has used in the past few months, most noticeably in violently blocking Muslim Brotherhood voters from reaching the polls in parliamentary elections.

Only eight new ministers joined the cabinet, which included 30 portfolios in Mubarak's eighth government in his 24 years in power, the Middle East News Agency said.

Focus on reform

Several reform-minded ministers have been retained. That, with the introduction of more businessmen to the cabinet, appeared to be a result of Mubarak's election pledge to carry out an ambitious reform programme of job creation and home building, two of the many faltering sectors of the country's moribund economy.

Gamal Mubarak has promised
political and economic reform

Mubarak's son Gamal, a 42-year-old investment banker, has promised political and economic reform. 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 when his father's term expires in 2011.

Among the main trends in the changes to the team is the consolidation of the reformist clan close to Gamal - ministers responsible for the economy.

But the new cabinet is challenged by a myriad of economic problems, an increasingly frustrated population and external pressure on the regional heavyweight for change.

Exits

The most significant exit from the government was that of Kamal el-Shazily, minister for parliament affairs for nearly two decades and widely seen as a member of the ruling party old guard held responsible for blocking reform efforts.

Ibrahim Suleiman, outgoing housing minister, and another controversial figure of the government accused of corruption by the opposition, was also removed from the government.