Egypt's interim Cabinet resigns, sets stage for Sissi presidential bid

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CAIRO -- Egypt's interim Cabinet resigned Monday in a surprise move that could pave the way for the nation's military chief to announce his widely anticipated plans to run for president in the spring.

The resignation, announced by Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi in a televised statement, came amid a wave of labor strikes over the government's failure to fix the economy and rising popular anger nearly a year after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the military.

The Cabinet will remain in office in a care-taking capacity until a new one is formed. Its resignation fueled speculation that the military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, will soon announce a presidential bid. The 59-year-old career infantry officer, who has been defense minister since Mr. Morsi named him to the Cabinet post in August 2012, has already secured the support of Egypt's top military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to seek the presidency.

Military and security officials said the British- and U.S.-trained Marshal Sissi has been working with a team of advisers on a program of action that he intends to announce when he declares his candidacy. Making the announcement against a backdrop of rising popular anger and harsh media criticism of Mr. Beblawi would not have looked good for Marshal Sissi.

Mr. Beblawi did not say why his Cabinet was resigning. His military-backed government was sworn in in July, less than two weeks after Marshal Sissi ousted Mr. Morsi.

Marshal Sissi has been increasingly acting in a presidential fashion. He paid a highly publicized visit to Russia earlier this month, when he secured the Kremlin's blessing for his likely presidential bid and negotiated a large arms deal. Last week, his wife made her first public appearance since he became defense minister. Intisar el-Sissi was seated next to him during a ceremony to honor senior officers.

Thousands of Sissi posters are plastered on walls and hoisted on lampposts across much of the country. Songs praising him are played on radio and blare from coffee shops. He has often been likened to a lion and Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser and portrayed as a savior who will bring strength and prosperity to Egypt.

A new constitution adopted in a referendum last month gives the military the exclusive right to pick the defense minister for the next two, four-year presidential terms. In Egypt, the defense minister is routinely the armed forces' commander in chief.

So if Marshal Sissi, as expected, is left out of the next Cabinet lineup, that will most likely mean that his announcement on a presidential bid is imminent. His chief of staff, Gen. Sobhi Sedki, is expected to succeed him.

Mr. Beblawi's government is likely to be remembered for authorizing security forces in August to storm pro-Morsi sit-in protests in Cairo -- a crackdown that killed hundreds -- and for labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Mr. Beblawi has been heavily criticized for failing to prevent high-profile terror attacks blamed on pro-Morsi militants. In the last seven months, several security headquarters have been bombed and dozens of policemen -- some in key intelligence jobs -- gunned down in the streets. Authorities daily announce the seizures of extensive caches of arms and explosives.

The latest wave of labor unrest to hit Egypt included strikes by public transport workers and garbage collectors and a partial stoppage by doctors. An acute shortage of cooking gas cylinders has also fed popular frustration. This week also saw the end of a crippling, 11-day strike by thousands of textile workers in the industrial city of Mahalla in the Nile Delta.



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