Egypt ministers resign in cabinet shuffle

Prime minister accepts four resignations as cabinet cull aimed at placating protesters begins.

Egypt Foreign Minister Mohammed el-Orabi resigns
Protesters at police headquarters in Alexandria called for the resignation of the interior minister on Saturday [AFP]

Egypt’s ministers of trade, finance and foreign affairs have resigned as part of a broad cabinet shuffle aimed at appeasing protesters.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who leads a caretaker cabinet formed after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February, has accepted their resignations. Deputy Prime Minister Yehya el-Gamal resigned last week.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, said the cabinet reshuffle has been one of the key demands of the protestors in the past weeks.

“These resignation do not come as a surprise-perhaps the timing of them does because it is somewhat of a preemptive measure by some of these ministers who could very well be asked to step down once the prime minister announces the full make up of the new cabinet,” he said.

Sharaf hopes the new cabinet line up, which is expected to take shape by Monday, will help to end a week-long sit-in in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Mohammed el-Orabi, the foreign minister, said he had submitted his resignation “to spare the prime minister any embarrassment during the current negotiations on the ministerial changes,” the state-run MENA news agency reported.

Orabi served for less than a month; he took over in June from Nabil el-Arabi, a popular choice who then quit the ministry to head the Arab League.

The announcement of Orabi’s resignation, late on Sunday, came hours after Sharaf appointed veteran economist Hazem Beblawi and Ali al-Silmi, a leader of the liberal Wafd party, as deputy prime ministers.

Beblawi will now become finance minister, replacing Samir Radwan. It remained unclear who would replace Trade and Industry Minister Samir el-Sayyad.

Official media said up to 15 ministers may be replaced in the cabinet reshuffle, with a focus on those with ties to Mubarak’s three-decade rule.

Beblawi, a former undersecretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, will oversee economic policy in the new cabinet, while Silmi will handle “democratic transition” matters, state media said.

Military trials

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ultimate power in Egypt, also issued a statement that appeared aimed at appeasing protesters.

In a post on its Facebook page, it promised to restrict military trials to cases of rape, assaults on police and armed assaults.

But the military’s statement also warned that while it would respect peaceful protests, it would not stand aside if protesters damaged government or private property.

One of the demonstrators’ key demands is an end to military trials of civilians, which have become widespread since Mubarak’s ousting.

But the military’s warning seemed to give wide leeway for soldiers to use force, since many demonstrations have been broken up by police or plainclothes men.

Speedier reforms

Sharaf has come under fire from many dissidents, who once embraced him, for the slow pace of reforms since the revolution and for his limited powers under military rule.

The sit-in in the iconic square, the epicentre of the 18-day uprising that overthrew Mubarak, began after tens of thousands of people held a demonstration on July 8 calling for speedier reforms.

They want faster trials for former regime officials accused of complicity in killings during the revolution as well as a coherent transition to civilian rule, which the military has promised after parliamentary and presidential elections.

Despite the ministerial announcements, hundreds of protesters who pitched tents in Tahrir Square stayed put, although some protesters suspended a hunger strike after negotiations with military representatives, state media reported.

On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of protesters held a funeral procession for Mustafa Ahmed Hassan, 34, who died of his wounds despite several operations since being shot in the head in Alexandria on January 28, one of the bloodiest days of the uprising.

Mosbah’s coffin, which was wrapped in an Egyptian flag, was carried to Tahrir Square, where a funeral prayer was held for him.

Protesters marched to the prime minister’s office demanding justice for the families of those who died in the revolution.

‘Only the beginning’

Sharaf, who himself was appointed premier after demonstrations persuaded the military to sack Mubarak’s cabinet in March, pledged on Friday that “the new ministerial changes are simply the beginning”.

“I am working hard to achieve your aspirations,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Sharaf, who has already ordered the sacking of hundreds of senior interior ministry officials, hopes the new cabinet will satisfy the activists while helping the country recover economically.

Egypt has seen a sharp decline in tourism and increased unemployment since the revolution, and investors remain jittery over sporadic and sometimes deadly unrest in the Arab world’s most populous country.

Tensions are also mounting between the military, initially hailed for not siding with Mubarak, and groups that spearheaded the revolt.

On Saturday, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was forced to cut short a visit to Tahrir Square after protesters drowned out his speech with booing and anti-military chants.

Source: News Agencies