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Egypt Presidential Race Begins Amid Cabinet Confusion, Turmoil

Egypt’s political transition endured fresh turbulence as doubts surfaced about an anticipated Cabinet reshuffle and campaigning began for the country’s first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

A day after the parliamentary speaker said the ruling military would announce changes to the government within 48 hours, Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Aboulnaga cast doubt on the move.

“As far as I know, there is not going to be a ministerial change,” Aboulnaga told reporters today. She said she couldn’t comment on remarks by Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni yesterday that he’d been told by the ruling generals that a reshuffle would be announced. One day has passed, so “why don’t we wait another 24 hours,” she said.

The contradictory statements threaten to increase tensions between the Islamist-dominated parliament and the military council and its appointed government at a time when Egyptians have begun to focus on the election, slated to begin May 23. The ruling council is under growing pressure from Islamists and secular groups concerned it will renege on pledges to hand over power to a civilian administration.

El-Katatni said he had received a promise that the military would make changes within the government, after the People’s Assembly voted to suspend its work for the remainder of the week to protest the generals’ refusal to fire a Cabinet lawmakers see as obstructing their work and “engineering” crises.

Internal Tensions

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party holds nearly 50 percent of the seats in parliament’s lower house, criticized Aboulnaga’s comments as another example of the government attempting to discredit Islamists and, by extension, the elected party.

“The military council and the government’s aim is the failure” of the parliament, Mahmoud Ghozlan said by telephone. “The actions of the military and the government are obscure. Every day, there is a new comment and a new situation.”

“They are trying to get people to say to those who they elected: ‘We elected you, so why aren’t you giving us what we asked for?’” Ghozlan said. “At the same time, the unelected authorities are the ones that are obstructing the parliament’s efforts to meet the peoples’ requirements. It’s the country that loses.”

State-run website Al-Ahram Gate had reported that the change in the Cabinet may include Islamist ministers. The move could have allayed criticism by the FJP and others that they were being shut out of higher decision-making, allowing attention to shift to the upcoming presidential race.

Opinion Poll

A weekly poll showed former Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa leading the field of 13 candidates for the May 23 election. Moussa, who also served as foreign minister, secured the backing of 41.1 percent of those surveyed, according to the study conducted by Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and published today in the state-run al-Ahram newspaper.

Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a former member of the Brotherhood backed by the largest Salafi bloc in parliament, was second with 27.3 percent. Aboul-Fotough also won the support of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Group, the Middle East News Agency reported today.

The elections have been clouded by other political infighting. Even as el-Katatni announced that the parliament’s lower house was suspending its sessions until May 6, other lawmakers objected and began collecting signatures to require the assembly to return to work, al-Ahram Gate reported today.

Secularists have grown increasingly unsettled by what they see as the Brotherhood’s push to amass more power after the group’s chosen candidate was disqualified from the presidential race. Their remaining candidate, Freedom and Justice Party head Mohamed Mursi, scored a distant sixth in the weekly poll, garnering the support of 3.6 percent of the survey’s respondents.

New Constitution

Additionally, a parliamentary committee yesterday rejected the framework for the selection of a panel to draft the constitution, drawing a rebuke from the military council’s civilian advisory body, MENA reported.

The outline for the panel’s makeup was crafted by the military council and political groups last week, after the earlier committee was effectively disbanded following a court ruling. The objections may mean that the constitution won’t be completed in time for the planned end-of-June handover of power to a civilian government and that the next president would come into office without clear guidelines on his authority.

Aboul-Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member who parted ways with the group after he announced his candidacy at a time when it had pledged not to contest the race, has sought to capitalize on the growing unease with the group. He has appealed to a broad constituency, including secularists, Coptic Christians and other Islamists who may have reservations about the Brotherhood and FJP’s presidential hopeful.

His recent endorsement by the Salafi al-Nour Party, whose members adhere to a stricter interpretation of Islam, may help him secure a share of the Islamist vote and undercut backing for Mursi, who was endorsed last week by another Salafi rganization.

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