Another chapter in Egypt’s messy political transition is about to open after the interim President on Monday, accepted the surprise resignation of the Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi.
Adly Mansour, the interim President, who was positioned by the military on the top of the political pyramid after the fall last July of Mohamed Morsy — Egypt’s first elected President — thanked Mr. El-Beblawi “for accepting to lead the Cabinet ... at a very critical and hard time following the 30 June revolution.” The new military-backed government had assumed power on July 3, 2013, following a spate of anti-Morsy protests that had peaked towards the end of June.
Analysts say that the resignation of the Cabinet clears the path for Defence Minister and Army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the face of anti-Morsy protests and ouster, to contest for presidential elections that are expected in April. Under Egyptian law, members of the armed forces and police cannot run for public office.
The exit of the Cabinet is likely to lead to the unveiling of final details of a road map for a political transition, which has followed a tortuous path after a public uprising removed former strongman Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.
The website of the Egyptian daily Al Ahram is reporting that the resignation of the Cabinet is likely to be followed by the release of an amended election law by Mr. Mansour. Gen. El-Sisi, at that point is expected to announce his bid for the presidency.
Observers point out that the outgoing Defence Minister wants elections to be held swiftly because of a perceived drop in his popularity, which had apparently peaked after he had forced Mr. Morsy out of office. But a crackdown, first against the Islamist activists, loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood — Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation — and then the secularist youth, seem to have alienated even some of Gen. El-Sisi’s strong erstwhile supporters.
The crackdown against the secularists apparently peaked on January 25, when more than 1,000 individuals were arrested, according to an Interior Ministry count. “As the scope of repression across the country continues to expand unabated, the hopes of freedom and justice are becoming more elusive,” said Amnesty International in a report in the aftermath of the “staggering” arrests on January 25. Secular activists demonstrated their rift with the Army chief by mass boycott of a constitutional referendum that was held last month.
The hiatus between the secular youth and the military is yet to be bridged. On Tuesday, non-religious youth groups, including the April 6 Youth Movement and Revolutionary Socialists called for an evening protest march, not far from Cairo’s Tahrir Square — the emblem of the uprising that led to Mr. Mubarak’s fall.
While the interim authorities have remained preoccupied in quashing an Islamist insurgency in the restive Sinai desert area, labour unrest has, simultaneously, flared in several parts of Egypt. After a two-week strike, workers of the state-owned Nile Company for Roads and Bridges returned to work on Monday after successfully negotiating a 35 per cent increase in basic salary. Egypt’s doctors are on an “open ended” partial strike, in pursuit of their demands for higher pay and larger investments in the healthcare sector.
Workers at the Mahalla Textile and Weaving Company — the largest public textile enterprise in Egypt — have suspended their strike by 60 days after the government agreed to meet their demands. The striking workers have been mainly asking for payment of delayed bonuses.
Anti-Mubarak protests had sparked at the Mahalla textile plant in 2008, when an industrial strike quickly mutated into a popular uprising.