New Egypt cabinet gets working amid unrest

2013-07-17 13:08
Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour(C) and the newly sworn in Egypt's interim cabinet pose for a group picture in Cairo. (AFP)

Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour(C) and the newly sworn in Egypt's interim cabinet pose for a group picture in Cairo. (AFP)

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Cairo - Egypt's new caretaker cabinet got down to work on Wednesday faced with a raft of daunting challenges including restoring security, as the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohammed Morsi vowed fresh demonstrations.

On the interim leaders' agenda was a series of meetings with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who flew into Cairo on Wednesday to press the case for a swift return to democratic rule in Egypt.

The influential Brotherhood, which along with the ultra-conservative al-Nur party has refused to take part in the new administration, said it had called a new round of pro-Morsi protests in the capital later on Wednesday.

Ashton was to meet interim president Adly Mansour, Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi, foreign minister Nabil Fahmy and army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general behind the popularly backed coup that overthrew Morsi on 3 July.

"I am going to Egypt to reinforce our message that there must be a fully inclusive political process, taking in all groups which support democracy," Ashton said before arriving.

‘Stable’ outlook

Brotherhood spokesperson Gehad El-Haddad quickly rejected as illegitimate the 34-member cabinet sworn in on Tuesday, in which Sisi was appointed first deputy prime minister and minister of defence.

"We don't recognise its legitimacy or its authority," he told AFP.

Political analyst Samer Shehata said among the pressing issues for the new government are Egypt's budget deficit, reforming the interior ministry, establishing the rule of law and restoring security in Sinai.

The restive Sinai Peninsula, in particular, has suffered a wave of attacks, with six soldiers and two civilians wounded late on Tuesday when militants fired at a small army camp in the border town of Rafah, according to security sources.

"How to deal with the protesters on the street at the moment is another very serious issue," said Shehata.

Standard & Poor's ratings agency said Tuesday it would keep its credit rating for Egypt unchanged after Gulf states pledged billions to support the post-coup government.

Ten weeks after cutting Cairo's sovereign rating to junk-level CCC+, S&P said it would hold the rating there, with a "stable" outlook, despite the military coup.

Women, Coptic Christians

Egypt's caretaker government consists of 34 ministers, after Ahmed Sultan declined to accept the nomination of transport minister.

There are three women and three Coptic Christians in the new cabinet.

Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony took place just hours after deadly overnight clashes between the security forces and Morsi's supporters in Cairo and nearby Giza.

Officials said seven people were killed and 261 wounded in the clashes. Hundreds of protesters were also arrested.

On Monday, US envoy Bill Burns - the most senior American official to visit since the 3 July coup - had appealed for an end to the violence rocking the Arab world's most populous nation.

Within hours however, thousands of Morsi supporters were on the streets of the capital protesting at the president's overthrow and his detention by the military.

Hundreds of them battled the security forces and two people died in clashes around the central Ramses area near Tahrir Square, while another five were killed in Giza, emergency services told AFP.

‘Strong resentment’

The United States condemned the violence. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said it made the transition "much more difficult," but he insisted Washington was not taking sides.

Washington has refrained from saying Morsi was the victim of a coup, which would legally require a freeze on some $1.5bn in US military and economic assistance to Cairo.

These latest deaths bring to more than 100 the number of people killed, according to an AFP tally, since the coup that plunged Egypt into violence.

During his single year of turbulent rule, Morsi was accused of concentrating power in Brotherhood hands, sending the economy into freefall and failing to protect minorities.

But the Islamist leader's supporters say his overthrow was an affront to democracy.

Egypt's new rulers voiced "strong resentment" on Tuesday at comments by Turkey's Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan backing Morsi as the country's only legitimate president.

The diplomatic spat came as the authorities tightened the screws on Morsi's backers, freezing the assets of 14 top Islamists, including nine Brotherhood leaders.

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