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Egypt's Sisi asks oil minister to form new government

The obsequious Egyptian media are turning on ministers, but on Sisi, yet. [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 September, 2015

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday asked oil minister Sherif Ismail to form a new cabinet after the government submitted its resignation.

President Sisi has asked Egypt's oil minister to form a new cabinet following the resignation of the government on Saturday in the face of intense criticism from normally Sisi supporting media that reflects growing discontent.   

The office of the president said he accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and his Cabinet but that the ministers would continue to serve until a new body is appointed. Sisi tasked Petroleum Minister Sherif Ismail with forming a new Cabinet within a week.    

Prior to handing in his resignation, Mehleb provided a report detailing the performance of the government, which two officials from the president's office said el-Sissi found "unsatisfying." The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to brief reporters.  

Egypt's president is generally in charge of major affairs of state while the prime minister, whom he appoints, handles day-to-day running of the government. 

Sis in recent months has had to perform tasks that normally should fall to Mehleb, such as arranging meetings with ministers and negotiating business deals with foreign

     The country's private media... have slammed the government in recent weeks.

investors, according to the two officials.

Mehleb also failed to pressure his ministers into following through on memorandums of understanding that Sisi signed during a much-publicised economic summit in March, they said.   

Ismail is an engineer who held senior posts at several state-run energy firms, and is seen as one of the best performing ministers.  

As oil minister, he oversaw politically sensitive reforms, slashing energy subsidies, and also paid back some arrears to foreign energy companies to improve Egypt's image among investors  

Media turning on cronies? 

The country's private media, while lavishing praise on Sisi  the former general who led the overthrow of the country's first democratically elected president two years ago, have slammed the government in recent weeks, accusing ministers of incompetence and of being out of touch with ordinary people suffering from years of turmoil since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.   

"Sisi and the armed forces are responsible for the accomplishments we see," said Ibrahim Eissa, a journalist and TV host, who called Mehleb and his Cabinet a "burden" on the president. "All of the ministers that failed were Mehleb's choices," Eissa told viewers earlier this week.  

The government suffered a major blow when Agriculture Minister Salah el-Din Helal was detained Monday after tendering his resignation amid an investigation into allegations that he and others received over $1 million in bribes.    

The Egyptian government has long been plagued by corruption allegations, particularly regarding land deals.

Sisi routinely insists that he is rooting out corruption.  

Mehleb walked out of a press conference in Tunisia earlier this week after being asked about the allegations, a move widely ridiculed by the Sisi private media.   

"Didn't you watch Sisi's speeches?" television host Youssef el-Hosseiny said, before playing clips of the president's past press conferences for comparison.   

The corruption allegations have fed into the perception that the government is detached from the people and engaged in the sort of cronyism that was widespread in the Mubarak era and was a central grievance of the protesters who overthrew him. 

Last week, the higher education minister reportedly tried to exempt the children of judges, army and police officers from unpopular regulations that restrict where Egyptians can attend university.

In May, the justice minister suggested the children of sanitation workers could never aspire to be judges. 

Mehleb, a former construction magnate and prominent member of Mubarak's now-defunct National Democratic Party, angered many in July when he suggested the country's youth consider driving auto-rickshaws, known as tok-toks, instead of counting on government employment.

Sisi has approved a new civil service law that many believe will dramatically reduce the country's 6 million-strong public workforce. 

Dissent silenced

There have been few public expressions of discontent with the government. A draconian law restricting protests, and a bloody crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi as well as secular activists, have largely silenced dissent. 

The dismissal of the Cabinet could further bolster support for Sisi ahead of parliamentary elections later this year, furthering the image he has cultivated of himself as a leader who is above the political fray.  

Egypt is due to hold long-delayed parliamentary elections next month, the final step in a process the government has said would deliver democracy.  

In his former role as army chief, Sisi toppled Egypt's first freely-elected president,  Mohamed Morsi, in 2013. Sisi was later elected president on promises of political stability and economic prosperity.  

He launched a security crackdown that put an end to large-scale political unrest in Egypt but has drawn criticism from human rights groups who accuse him of silencing the opposition.  

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