Egypt’s prime minister named 12 new Cabinet members Sunday in a reshuffle under pressure from protesters demanding a purge of remnants of the former regime, state television reported.
A lawyer for Hosni Mubarak, meanwhile, said the ousted president had suffered a stroke and was in a coma - a claim that was quickly denied by Mubarak’s lead doctor.
The former president is set to face trial in about two weeks on charges he ordered the killings of protesters during the 18-day uprising that ousted him on Feb. 11. A conviction could carry the death penalty and activists suspect his lawyer may be using health problems as a ruse to sway public opinion and perhaps even win amnesty.
State TV dubbed the new government line-up the “Revolution Cabinet.” Most of the ministers were relative newcomers, clearly a way to avoid further criticism by the protesters.
Thousands of Egyptians have returned to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s uprising, complaining that change has come too slow under the military council that took over power.
Even after the Cabinet reshuffle, many of the protesters in the square said they have no intention of quitting more than a week into their sit-in.
“The real power brokers are the generals of Hosni Mubarak,” said activist Hossam el-Hamalawy. “Nothing has really changed on the ground.” He said ending military trials for civilians and an improved minimum wage remain high on the list of the protesters’ demands.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is delivering on a promise for a Cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to end the new round of mass protests. A final line-up is expected Monday.
The most prominent among those replaced is Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass. For more than a decade, he has been the international face of Egypt’s archaeology, with his trademark “Indiana Jones” hat that turned him into an instantly recognizable global icon. Mr. Hawass, however, has been the target of a series of heavily publicized protests by archaeology graduates who accused him of corruption and seeking publicity for himself.
He has been accused of being too close to Mr. Mubarak and his family, along with former culture minister Farouq Hosni, himself a protégé of the Mubaraks who had served in the Cabinet for 25 years until he was pushed out after the revolution.
Mr. Sharaf accepted the resignation of Finance Minister Samir Radwan after his new budget was dismissed by many protesters as conservative. One of the main factors behind the uprising was crippling poverty.
Mr. Radwan will be replaced by Hezam el-Biblawi, a former U.N. official and prominent economist. El-Biblawi was also named deputy prime minister.
Mr. Sharaf named new ministers of transport, military production, higher education, communication, agriculture and health. The ministers of religious endowments, local development, trade and industry and civil aviation have also been replaced. Mr. Sharaf had accepted the resignation of the foreign minister on Saturday, naming a relatively new face, Mohammed Kamel Omar, once Egypt’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as the new chief diplomat.
Tension has been on the rise in Egypt over what many perceive as the military rulers’ reluctance to act against Mubarak and his loyalists. In one of the most sustained campaigns to pressure the military since they took charge in February, protesters have camped out in Tahrir demanding an overhaul of government.
In a sign of the tense relations, a senior military official visiting the protest camp Saturday was heckled by a number of protesters, forcing him to leave.
Justice for the families of nearly 900 people killed during the uprising is a key demand. In response, the military promised public trials for officials facing charges.
The protesters camped in Tahrir are also demanding a public trial for Mubarak and other regime officials accused of complicity in killing protesters.
Mubarak’s lawyer Farid el-Deeb claimed on Sunday that the ousted president had suffered a stroke and was in a coma.
However, Assem Azzam, the head of Mubarak’s medical team, quickly denied it and said he only suffered from a bout of low blood pressure and dizziness. Mr. Azzam said Mr. Mubarak, 83, was stable.
Mr. Mubarak has been in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April under arrest on charges that he ordered the killings of protesters during the uprising. He is said to be suffering from heart trouble.
El-Deeb has made other claims recently about Mubarak’s deteriorating health that were also denied by senior medical officials.
Mr. Mubarak was treated last year for cancer in his gallbladder and pancreas, and el-Deeb said last month that he may be suffering a recurrence that spread to his stomach. However, two senior Egyptian medical officials - one of them the head of Mubarak’s team of doctors - said at the time he did not have the disease.
Mr. Mubarak’s purported health issues have complicated efforts to bring him to trial. He was hospitalized on the day prosecutors trying to build a case against him sought to question the former leader for the first time.
Prosecutors have questioned him in the hospital, but an order to transfer him to a Cairo prison during the investigation was overturned on the grounds that the prison health facilities were inadequate to treat him. A report by a government-appointed panel of physicians determined in May that Mubarak is too ill to be held in prison while awaiting trial.
Mr. Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, have been held in Cairo’s Tora prison since mid-April while they are investigated on charges ranging from corruption and squandering public funds to ordering the violent suppression of anti-government demonstrations.ds