Egypt swears in a new Cabinet as mounting economic challenges fuel public discontent

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s new Cabinet was sworn in Wednesday with major changes in the defense, foreign ministry and economy portfolios as the country faces mounting public discontent and conflicts in neighboring nations.

Years of economic mismanagement, the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout of wars in Europe and the Middle East have all caused economic pain including ballooning inflation. In addition, a Western-backed reform program — adopted in 2016 and backed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi — has led to austerity measures. Nearly 30% of Egyptians live in poverty, according to official figures.

As el-Sissi chaired the first meeting of his government, the president affirmed the importance of completing the economic reform program and urged the government to work on “attracting and encouraging domestic and foreign investments,” according to his office.

Mohamed Maait, Egypt's finance minister since 2018, was replaced by his deputy Ahmed Kouchouk, a former World Bank economist who played a major role in implementing a reform program with the International Monetary Fund.

Earlier this year, the government floated the pound and sharply increased the main interest rate. Commercial banks are now trading the U.S. dollar at more than 47 pounds, up from about 31.

Meanwhile, Egypt's revenues from the Suez Canal have dropped as Yemen’s Houthi rebels attack shipping routes on the Red Sea.

Egypt also has been struggling to revive the lucrative tourism sector. In the new Cabinet, Sherif Fathy, a former civil aviation minister, replaced Ahmed Issa as tourism and antiquities minister.

Another source of discontent is recurring power cuts during summer's soaring heat in the country of over 106 million people. Mahmoud Esmat was named to oversee the electricity ministry.

As conflicts rage in Gaza, Libya and Sudan, Badr Abdelatty, who has been Egypt’s envoy to European countries including Germany and Belgium, was named foreign and migration minister. The 58-year-old diplomat replaced Sameh Shoukry, who led Egypt's diplomacy for the past decade.

Gen. Abdel-Majeed Sakr replaced Gen. Mohamed Zaki, who had led the defense portfolio since 2018. El-Sissi also appointed Lt. Gen. Ahmed Fathy Khalifa as the military's chief of staff.

El-Sissi, elected in December for a third six-year term, tapped Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly, in office since 2018, to form the new government last month.

The new Cabinet includes four women and several technocrats. Some ministers, including those in charge of police, health and transportation, remain in place.

El-Sissi, a former defense minister, was first elected president in mid-2014 and reelected in 2018. A year later, constitutional amendments passed in a general referendum added two years to el-Sissi’s second term and allowed him to run for a third.