The cabinet of Sherif Ismail, which was appointed in September 2015, less than three months before the parliamentary elections, is the fourth ministry in the era of Al-Sisi, which practically began during the cabinet of Hazem El-Beblawi. Ismail’s ministry is the tenth since the 25 January Revolution, and the fall of Mubarak. Here, we will try to understand the reasons behind the ministerial changes after the 1952 revolution, and whether such ministerial changes led to changes in the political, economic, and social orientations, or whether the mechanisms of changing these orientations are associated with other changes? If the ministerial change will not result in a change in these orientations, what are the reasons and motives of that change? In order to answer these questions and other questions, let us provide an overview of the process of ministerial changes since 1952 until now.
Briefly, we can say that since 1952 Egypt saw 36 cabinets over 63 years, i.e. a cabinet every 21 months in average. This number includes the 10 cabinets since the fall of Mubarak on 25 January 2011 until now; two cabinets every year. Eleven cabinets out of the 36 were during Abdel Nasser’s era, starting with the cabinet of Ali Maher Pasha, which was formed, on paper, during the era of King Fouad II, who technically served under the tutelage of the “new era”. Five cabinets out of these 11 governed for 14 years in total, while two cabinets, which were headed by Nasser himself, served for seven years. The first served from 1954 to 1958, and second from 1967 until his death in 1970.
During Sadat’s era, which was short by Egyptian measures, lasting between 1970 and 1981, seven cabinets took power, three of which were in office for seven years, while the remaining four governed for four years in total.
As for Mubarak’s era, which lasted for 30 years, between 1981 and 2011, nine cabinets managed the country, four of which remained in office for 25 years, and five others that were in office for five years.
Finally, we can say that the stability that Mubarak’s long era witnessed was different, whereby the country was managed by four cabinets for 25 years. Atef Sedqy hold the exclusive title of heading the longest cabinet in Egypt’s modern history for a full 10 years, while Ahmed Nazif came in the second place, with seven years. He is followed by Atef Ebeid, whose cabinet governed for five years.
Looking at these numbers, we can conclude that the presidents of the family of the 1952 revolution found themselves forced to change ministries over very short intervals, except for some relatively short periods of stability during Nasser’s and Sadat’s eras. The questions that present themselves now, irrespective of whether these changes took place over long or short periods, are: Why did these cabinet changes took place? And did these changes lead to change in the political, economic or social orientations of the regime?
We can clearly conclude that the ministerial changes in every presidential era were not associated with any change worth noting in the state’s orientation and policies. None of the Nasser era’s characteristics and features changed when the cabinet went to Kamal El-Din Hussein, after Nour El-Din Tarraf. The same applies in Sadat’s era, were its features did not change once Mostafa Khalil took office instead of Mamdouh Salem. Finally, when Ali Lotfy became the prime minister after Kamal Hassan Ali, it did not lead to any notable change during Mubarak’s era.
All evidence indicates that the change within the 1952 family is linked to the change of the president himself. A timeless quote by Yousef Wali, former Secretary of the dissolved National Democratic Party and one of the Mubarak regime’s longest-serving figures, who described himself and all the pillars of Mubarak’s regime, saying: “We are all secretaries for the President,” summarises the whole situation.
In the same context, Ibrahim Mehleb was not wrong when he declared that he has nothing to do with politics and that he dislikes them. The man did not have any qualms when one of his ministers was sacked without his knowledge, after having met with him one hour earlier. He considered himself, most likely, very similar to Yousef Wali, one of the secretaries of the President.
We can say, then, that changing the cabinet is not linked to any serious change in the policies of the state or the system, and that this only changes when the president is changed. This is a process that usually occurs when the regime arrives at a certain degree of tension, as a result of conflicts and social contradictions between the ruling class and the remainder of the society on the one hand, and the conflicts between the ruling class and the ruling community on the other side.
One should clarify here that the 1952 regime itself reproduces the group, the oligarchy or the ruling junta with every new president. This group, which is built around the new president from within the ruling class itself, at the same time conflicts with the class, because of the exclusion of most of the members of this ruling group.
Although the ruling class does not feel the size of the political and social conflicts within the community, or feel it too late, as they live in an ivory tower, disconnected people due to the lack of political institutions, they nevertheless feel the growing tension long before the junta or the ruling group.
This class probably feels this tension through a variety of other indicators, which may include the ruling party that sometimes manifests itself as a political decoration that polishes the ruling regime. This is could also result from a network of interests and corruption, or through NGOs or security reports. Only then will the ruling class realise that there is a need for changing some policies and trends, long before the ruling group does. This group continues to isolate itself from the conflicts in the community, and drowns in its own illusions.
We all remember, for example, how Ahmed Ezz stood proudly during the announcement of the 2010 elections results, while most observers, and even from within the ruling class itself, realised that these elections could be the final nail in the Mubarak regime’s coffin.
One should point out here that the monopoly of the ruling group over power and wealth, increasingly over time, amplified the wrath of the ruling class, and added to the conflict of interests between the class and the group – in the absence of any major social challenges, which could have unified them together if they were allowed to emerge. These challenges could be social or political.
So, if the cabinet change does not reflect the change of the basic system trends, what good is it, then?
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party