Egypt's president swears in new government amid corruption probe

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has sworn in a new government, just a week after the previous Cabinet had resigned amid an investigation involving over $1 million in bribes.

MENA/AP/File
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, meets with then- Petroleum Minister Sheriff Ismail in Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 12, 2015. The new government, headed by Ismail, came after state-friendly media had begun slamming his predecessor Ibrahim Mehleb and the prosecution began investigating several officials for allegedly receiving over $1 million in bribes.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has sworn in a new government, Egypt's state news agency reported Saturday, one week after the previous Cabinet resigned amid a corruption probe.

The new government, headed by former Petroleum Minister Sherif Ismail, came after state-friendly media had begun slamming his predecessor Ibrahim Mehleb and the prosecution began investigating several officials for allegedly receiving over $1 million in bribes.

Local media accused Mehleb and his ministers of incompetence and being out of touch with the public. El-Sissi, the former general and defense minister who led the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, was spared the media lashing.

Egypt, whose governments have long been plagued by corruption allegations, has been in turmoil since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Prime Minister Ismail was among the most celebrated ministers in the former Cabinet, especially after Italy's Eni SpA revealed late last month their discovery of the "largest-ever" oil field in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Egypt.

El-Sissi has also restructured the Cabinet, merging several ministries and forming a new body responsible for immigration, according to the Middle East News Agency.

The 33-member Cabinet contains three women and 16 new members. Two of the newcomers, Education Minister Zaki Badr and Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, served in similar posts under Mubarak. The country's interior, justice, defense, finance and investment ministers, however, kept their posts.

Bound by the constitution, Egypt's new government must submit its resignation once the new parliament convenes in December, following upcoming parliamentary elections. According to local media reports, the inherently short-term nature of the current Cabinet prompted some ministerial candidates to decline offers to join.

Egypt has been without a legislature for three years. In its absence, el-Sissi holds legislative authority and has passed dozens of laws by decree.

Also Saturday, el-Sissi appointed Nabil Sadeq as Egypt's chief prosecutor. A car bomb killed Sadeq's predecessor Hisham Barakat in an upscale Cairo neighborhood over two months ago. It was the first successful assassination of a senior official in 25 years. Barakat led the prosecution of members of the Brotherhood and other Islamists, including Morsi.

Since Morsi's fall, Egypt has been battling an Islamic insurgency, which was once limited to the restive northern Sinai, where the leading militant group has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, but has struck the mainland in recent months.

As for Mehleb, el-Sissi appointed him to the position of "assistant to the president for national and strategic projects." Shortly after he accepted Mehleb's resignation last week, el-Sissi said in a speech that he still "needs Mehleb by (his) side."

Some observers have interpreted these moves as an attempt by el-Sissi to engineer a soft landing for Mehleb — a former construction magnate and prominent member of Mubarak's now-defunct National Democratic Party.

"(El-Sissi) is protecting Mehleb from the allegations and the talks that may follow him," pro-government television presenter Tamer Amin said, praising the president for his deft handling of the situation.

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