Egypt’s Mursi Appoints Water Minister to Form New Cabinet

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi had pledged to appoint a nationalist figure to the premiership in a push to address the needs of the country’s various political groups. Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi named U.S.-trained water resources minister Hisham Qandil as the new premier, tapping a little-known politician to steward a nation mired in a political tug-of-war and struggling with a battered economy.

Qandil was asked to form a government in the very near future, the Middle East News Agency said, citing Mursi spokesman Yasser Ali. Qandil “is an independent, nationalist figure who does not belong to any political group, either before the January 25 revolution or after it,” Ali said.

Qandil’s appointment ended weeks of uncertainty over who would form the government that is to take power from the administration appointed by the military council that handed over power to Mursi on June 30. Mursi had pledged to appoint a figure from outside the Muslim Brotherhood from whose ranks he was drawn, as he sought to ease tensions with political groups that were concerned that Islamists were gaining too much power.

“Ninety-nine percent of Egyptians probably never heard of him before,” Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Doha Center, said of Qandil in a phone interview. “That is both an advantage and disadvantage for Mursi, but I think most people were expecting someone with more stature and a bigger profile, someone who can shake Egyptian politics up.”

Egypt’s benchmark EGX 30 Index of stocks extended its decline to 1 percent at the close in Cairo. The yield on the country’s 5.75 percent dollar bonds due 2020 advanced two basis points, or 0.02 of a percentage point, to 6.62 percent.

Technocrat Government

Qandil said he would appoint a government of technocrats, MENA reported.

He comes to the post with powers yet to be determined under a constitution that has not been written, while Mursi is engaged in a political battle with the former ruling generals over limits to his own powers.

This appointment “will not satisfy political forces,” Ashraf el-Sherif, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, said by phone. “The political gap will continue and with the wave of demonstrations, strikes and the high expectations people have for the new president, the situation can only get worse.”

Qandil told reporters today that Mursi was in contact with the military council over the defense ministry portfolio, which is currently held by the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

‘Economic Background’

Egypt’s economy has been battered in the nearly 18 months since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. Since January 2011, Egypt’s foreign reserves have dropped by over 50 percent while a $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan that has been under discussion for a year has yet to materialize.

“The market had hoped that the prime minister would have an economic background to implement the reforms needed to get the Egyptian economy back on track,” Anthony Simond, a London-based emerging-markets analyst at Aberdeen Asset Management Plc., said by phone. “It doesn’t appear that he has this experience.”

That Qandil doesn’t hail from any of the country’s various political blocs or alliances means “it will be easier for Mursi to manage him and the government,” said Said Hirsh, Mideast economist with Capital Economics.

“There’s a bigger picture that this appointment doesn’t seem to address: The fact the government itself, and the president himself, have very little power on policy making,” said Hirsh.

Temporary Authority

The military council last month issued a constitutional adendum stripping the presidency of some of its power and gave itself temporary legislative authority.

Qandil was named a minister under the interim government headed by Essam Sharaf, who took over as premier in March last year after Mubarak’s ouster. He survived a subsequent cabinet change and worked under Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, the outgoing premier. MENA put his age at 50, while the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper said he was 49.

His name rarely figured in the list of top contenders for the post floated by various Egyptian media. Those possible nominees, who names were dismissed as speculation by the presidency, included former and current central bank heads and a finance minister.

Before he was appointed to Sharaf’s Cabinet, Qandil served as a water resources expert at the African Development Bank, according to a biography posted on the Freedom & Justice Party’s Facebook page. He took part in talks on sharing the Nile’s waters and was a member of a joint Egyptian-Sudanese Nile waters authority, according to MENA.

His selection by Mursi is a “surprise, and goes back to the era of technocratic prime ministers,” Ayman Nour, an opposition politician who challenged Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, wrote on his Twitter account.

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