The Egyptian prime minister, Essam Sharaf, has appointed a new finance minister a day ahead of a planned cabinet reshuffle aimed at ending nine days of protests against his interim government.
The new finance minister, Hazem el-Biblawy, had been appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs late on Saturday — a position intended to coordinate between economic departments and other government agencies. He will now also replace Samir Radwan, a leftist economist who had been appointed in February after the fall of Hosni Mubarak., the former president.
Mr Biblawy has already indicated that he would move ahead with a plan to cap public service salaries by introducing a “maximum wage” alongside a new minimum wage announced last month. “It is unacceptable that one employee’s salary is a thousand times higher than another’s,” he said after meeting Mr Sharaf, the independent daily al-Masri al-Youm reported.
He also stressed that the budget approved by his predecessor would remain unchanged.
Speculation had been rife for several days that Mr Radwan, the chief architect of Egypt’s post-revolution economic recovery programme, was to be sacked. Mr Biblawy, 75 is a noted economist and a founding member of the new, secular Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
The Egyptian stock exchange rallied after the announcement, with the benchmark EGX 30 Index rising 3.26% from the day’s opening. The index is down 26.31% year-to-date.
“The market is reacting because the [ruling military council] is responding to political demands. People were worried last week that things were not moving, with each side fixed in its position,” said Simon Kitchen, a strategist at EFG-Hermes, an investment bank. “And in any case volumes have been low, so there is a lot of volatility.”
Mr Sharaf also appointed Ali al-Selmi, 75, a senior member of the liberal Wafd Party, as deputy prime minister for political affairs, replacing constitutional scholar Yehia al-Gammal, who resigned last week. Other ministers who have resigned include Mohammed al-Orabi, foreign minister, who served less than a month in the post, and Samir al-Sayyad, trade and industry minister.
As many as 15 ministers could be changed in the cabinet shuffle, which is expected to be completed on Monday. It is expected that ministers with ties to the former ruling National Democratic Party or who served under Mr Mubarak could be removed. New ministers of health, communications and higher education were appointed on Sunday.
Portfolios that are not expected to change include culture, education, information, interior, and justice, the leading state-owned daily al-Ahram weekly reported on Sunday.
The military council, which has ruled Egypt since Mr Mubarak was toppled, also issued a communiqué on Saturday pledging to answer the demands of the protesters who have occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square and prominent locations in other cities since July 8. It defended its use of military tribunals against civilians, saying that they were only used in cases involving illegal firearms and rape.
The council has been the subject of mounting criticism in recent weeks, with some protesters accusing it of subverting the revolution. On Saturday afternoon, activists booed General Tarek al-Mahdi, a former member of the council who was recently appointed head of state TV and radio, preventing him from addressing the large sit-in on Tahrir Square.
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