Egyptian government resigns as Sisi gets tough on graft

The president has asked the oil minister, Sherif Ismail, to form a new government in the next week.
Egypt's Abdel Fattah El Sisi was elected president in May last year partly on a campaign pledge to root out graft, bribery and corruption, which are endemic in Egypt. Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo
Egypt's Abdel Fattah El Sisi was elected president in May last year partly on a campaign pledge to root out graft, bribery and corruption, which are endemic in Egypt. Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

CAIRO // The entire Egyptian government stepped down on Saturday as president Abdel Fattah El Sisi ramped up his campaign against corruption in business and politics.

It is thought the prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab’s fate was sealed when he produced a report on the performance of his government, which Mr El Sisi is said to have found “unsatisfactory”. The president has asked the oil minister, Sherif Ismail, to form a new government in the next week.

The departure of Mr Mahlab and his cabinet follows the resignation last week of agriculture minister Salah Helal, and his subsequent arrest on suspicion of taking bribes.

Mr Helal faces an investigation into allegations that he and others were paid more than US$1 million, about Dh37m, to legalise the purchase of property from the state.

A senior government official said the reshuffle was meant to “pump new blood” into the government after the arrest.

Emad Al Din Hussein, chief editor of Egyptian newspaper Al Shorouk, said Mr Helal’s arrest was “a positive and important message that shows the government’s real intention and effort to combat corruption”.

Mr El Sisi is reinforcing “the rationale that the president is cleaning up the country and fighting corruption”, said Ziad Akl, senior researcher at Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank in Cairo.

The dismissal of the cabinet could also bolster support for Mr El Sisi before parliamentary elections take place in phases from October 17 to December 2.

Mr El Sisi was elected president in May last year partly on a campaign pledge to root out graft, bribery and corruption, which are endemic in Egypt. The anti-graft watchdog Transparency International’s 2014 rankings placed Egypt 94th out of 175 nations on its corruption index.

Global Integrity, an organisation in the United States that tracks governance and corruption around the world, estimated in 2011 that corrupt individuals in Egypt had made nearly US$60 billion illegally.

In April Mr El Sisi named Mohamed Omar Heiba as special adviser on eradicating corruption. Mr Heiba is former head of Egypt’s administrative supervisory authority, which oversees civil servants and regulates public-sector employment.

Last July, a court sentenced Ahmed Nazif, a prime minister under the ousted president Hosni Mubarak, to five years in prison and fined him $6.8m for corruption.

Mr Nazif, who Mubarak sidelined to appease protesters during the 2011 revolution that ended his rule, was convicted in a retrial of having used his position to make a fortune of $8.2m.

He had also been accused of corrupt property deals and receiving illegal bonuses.

In May, Mubarak himself was sentenced to three years in jail on corruption charges. His sons were each sentenced to four years in the same case.

Mr El Sisi overthrew Mohammed Morsi, who was elected president in 2012, after mass protests against his rule in 2013. Along with vowing to fight corruption at all levels, he has promised to revitalise Egypt’s economy and suppress an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

In July, Mr El Sisi opened a second shipping lane for the Suez Canal that could more than double the approximately $5 billion in revenues Egypt currently earns from vessels transiting the waterway.

Mr Ismail, the outgoing oil minister, will be leading the formation of a new government less than two weeks after the Italian energy company Eni announced the discovery of what it said was the biggest natural gas field in Mediterranean waters, a find that may end fuel shortages in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, and meet its needs for more than a decade.

* Reporting by Bloomberg News, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

Published: September 13, 2015 04:00 AM

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