Cosmetic changes will not work

On Sunday night, news leaked that a number of well-known political figures, including independents who are not affiliated with any party, would be brought into government as part of a new cabinet shuffle.

According to the leak, Yahya al-Gamal, an eminent constitutional scholar, was nominated for the post of vice prime minister; Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, secretary general of the Wafd party, was nominated as the new minister of tourism; Gouda Abdul Khalek, head of the Economic Committee of the leftist Tagammu party, was nominated as the new minister of social solidarity. The new cabinet would also include technocrats and ex-ministers tied to the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Al-Gamal was the first to publicly discuss the shuffle (even while the news was still officially unconfirmed), asserting that the new cabinet would be coalition government. This description is an inaccurate, from a technical standpoint, and misleading from a political standpoint.

In democratic countries, coalition governments are formed when no single party can achieve a parliamentary majority. This does not apply to the current situation in Egypt. The NDP gained 97 percent of the seats in the last parliamentary elections in November. Because it did not need to form a coalition government, the NDP-government remained in place until 25 January. At this point, ex-President Hosni Mubarak tasked the current Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq with forming a new NDP government. Given the escalating pressure of the revolution, and the fact that the cabinet change was ineffective, Mubarak was forced to resign and hand power over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The latter suspended the constitution and dissolved both the upper and lower houses of the Egyptian parliament.

Shafiq should have resigned after Mubarak stepped down and the NDP collapsed (with some of its prominent members facing trial) and parliament was dissolved. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces should have tasked an independent figure to form a neutral government to manage the country’s affairs until new parliamentary and presidential elections are held. This did not happen.

Making limited changes to a government formed by an ousted president and whose members predominantly belong to a fallen party is particularly puzzling. At best, it also reflects a degree of political panic. At worst, it raises a series of pressing concerns:

   1. Shafiq’s government is itself illegitimate, especially because it was not sworn in before the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

   2. Adding two or three independent or opposition figures to the cabinet does not make it a coalition government under any circumstances. It remains unclear who is coalescing with who in such a government and who is representing who.

   3. The appointment of al-Gamal as vice prime minister, rather than putting him in charge of a particular ministry, is unprecedented. Al-Gamal’s name will be used to give legitimacy to a situation that is “suspicious” at best. I therefore worry that al-Gamal, who is a dear and respected friend, has gotten embroiled in a situation that neither he, nor his friends, will ultimately find acceptable.

When will Egypt’s interim leaders, along with all Egyptians, realize that cosmetic changes will not work under the current circumstances? The disadvantages of this approach far outweigh its advantages. To move forward, things need to done correctly.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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