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Egypt

Egypt's New Prime Minister: The Wrong Man At The Wrong Time

Op-Ed: The military's recent decision to appoint Kamal al-Ganzouri as prime minister is the latest bad sign from Egypt's ruling class. Ganzouri, who already served under Mubarak, is the wrong choice at a time when citizens are clamoring

Ganzouri speaks to the press
Ganzouri speaks to the press
Issandr El Amrani

CAIRO - The recent decision by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to appoint Kamal al-Ganzouri as prime minister is a telling move. It is telling in its lack of imagination, in its proof of a state elite that can only accept one of its own at the helm, a man they understand will serve the state. "L'etat, c'est moi," said Louis XIV. "L'etat, c'est nous' seems to be the SCAF's motto.

One could think of no less apt a choice for the post at a time when hundreds of thousands are clamoring for more independent and visionary leadership. Ganzouri was prime minister between 1996 and 1999, and was known for his autocratic style, his tendency to micromanage government and his repression of the press and civil society.

To be sure, Egypt's generals had a choice to reach out to a political figure such as Amr Moussa or Mohamed ElBaradei, who have some street credibility, and who would have demanded that they surrender at least some of their authority. Instead they chose to take out the mothball-of-a man whose chief asset is that he is a faithful government servant, a consummate insider, familiar with the intricacies of that great machine of state that, even before the revolution, had begun to fall apart. It is their hope that Ganzouri will keep this machine going, and probably their calculation that only men cut out of his kind of cloth can keep it under control and keep it chugging along.

Ganzouri is a career public administrator and economist who cut his teeth in government during the Sadat era. He briefly served as a civilian governor of the province of Beni Suef, a rare appointment at the time. Like Hosni Mubarak, he hails from Menoufiya, and became a minister soon after the assassination of Sadat, holding various posts until he became prime minister on January 4, 1996.

Autocratic micromanagement

Some believe Ganzouri was let go because he opposed Mubarak on several issues, and had become a threat to the president. Like the idea that Amr Moussa's popularity as foreign minister was a threat to Mubarak, this is easily dismissible drivel: in fact, neither man ever took a public stance against the president, faithfully endorsing all of Mubarak's policy choices, as the public record — as opposed to rumors and journalistic speculation — shows.

The reason Gazouri was under quasi-house arrest all these years is not a rivalry with the former president, however. It was Ganzouri's autocratic micromanagement of his own cabinet, and his attempts at castrating other ministers that caused a good part of the Mubarak regime to turn against him.

Ganzouri was a hyperactive, dynamic prime minister, passing more laws and launching more initiatives than any other premier under Mubarak. But he came from a tradition of central state planning and put a break on the reforms demanded by the structural adjustment plan that Egypt had adopted in 1991 at the urging of international financial institutions.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Ganzouri appointment is that it brings back a man from a bygone era. Egypt is a very different country today than it was in the 1990s, and not just because Mubarak has been overthrown. The country is more fragile, more exposed to the global economy, its institutions are failing and the public's trust in the state is at an all-time low for this historically centralized country. No doubt, Ganzouri is being brought in only for a short term, since there should be a new government in six months, if not after a new parliament is elected. What the SCAF does not seem to realize, politics aside, is that Egypt does not have that kind of time to waste.

Read the full article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

photo - EuroNews

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