- - Monday, February 24, 2014

CAIRO — Monday’s surprise resignation of Egypt’s prime minister and Cabinet is widely seen as a ploy to allow Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a popular military chief, to run for president in April in hopes of stabilizing the Arab world’s most populous nation.

But analysts say it also is viewed as a failure of the interim government that was set up two weeks after the military’s ouster of democratically elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July.

“The government failed the test. It was an incompetent Cabinet that failed to deal with Egypt’s social, economic and political crises,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“We will soon see [Field Marshal el-Sissi] making a presidential bid, but the timing of the resignation is important. The resignation of the whole Cabinet makes it seem like it is not just about him,” Mr. Gerges said.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi’s televised announcement Monday leaves his Cabinet in place as a caretaker government until the president names a prime minister to form new Cabinet. In Egypt, the prime minister is more of a manager and does not set policies, which are the domain of the more powerful president.

“The Cabinet has, in the last six or seven months, responsibly and dutifully shouldered a very difficult and delicate burden, and I believe that, in most cases, we have achieved good results,” Mr. el-Beblawi said. “But like any endeavor, it cannot all be success but rather within the boundaries of what is humanly possible.”

The outgoing prime minister has weathered criticism of his government’s failure to deal with Egypt’s myriad economic and security problems. The once-lucrative tourism industry has been in tatters since the 2011 overthrow of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. In addition, he faces numerous labor strikes, including by public transportation workers and garbage collectors, as well as a shortage of cooking gas.

Mr. el-Beblawi also has been under fire for security forces’ failure to stem attacks blamed on Islamist militants supporting Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have focused on assaulting security forces and launching rockets at Israel.

El-Beblawi’s government should have resigned after the terrorist attacks that targeted Cairo and delta security headquarters. Now terrorists are able to operate in Cairo,” said Omnia Mostafa, 32, who works in a Cairo bank. “Maybe today they target the police and the military, but tomorrow they may bomb malls, schools and churches to kill civilians like what is happening in Iraq.

“This government also failed to create policies to save the economy and only depended on aid that came from the [Persian] Gulf countries,” Ms. Mostafa said.

Analysts say Field Marshal el-Sissi likely would win a presidential election, which the new constitution calls for by mid-April, but he probably would not secure a large enough majority to indicate a mandate from the people. Such an outcome could lead to further instability, they say, noting the field marshal’s role in ousting the country’s first democratically elected leader.

“If turnout is lower than for the constitutional vote, this wouldn’t bode well,” Mr. Gerges said. “El-Sissi needs a big mandate to govern.

“It’s not just about winning the election; it’s about garnering legitimacy,” he said.

Though he has not made a formal announcement for a presidential bid, Field Marshal el-Sissi already has been endorsed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s top military body.

But he has lost some popularity among young people and liberals since he announced the end of Mr. Morsi’s rule. The military-backed government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood also has quelled other voices of dissent.

Meanwhile, many Egyptians have voiced concerns about the government’s transitional road map and the detentions of secular demonstrators.

“The youth are unhappy about the authoritarian turn of events, unhappy because of the increasing crackdown by the security forces and moves by the government to limit demonstrations and public opinion,” Mr. Gerges said. “They will not turn out to vote in a presidential election.”

It was not clear whether Mr. el-Beblawi will retain his post in a caretaker capacity, but local media reported Monday that he didn’t plan to step down but rather reshuffle his government.

Some say the government should have made more progress.

“I am disappointed by el-Beblawi government’s weak performance,” said Amir Hassan, 25, an engineer in Cairo. “We thought he would have a plan to attract investment and create more jobs, but after almost eight months, what we see is more strikes from the government employees, learning in the universities has almost stopped because of the students’ protests, and extremists are expanding their activities in Sinai and in the major cities.”

Others were more forgiving.

Hazem el-Beblawi’s government operated in extremely difficult conditions with almost no resources. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood has done everything possible to make this government’s job very difficult,” said Mahmoud Habib, 43, who works in retail in Cairo.

“I think the government resignation means that it is a responsible government that understands very well that it did not meet the people’s expectations and it is time to give the floor to someone else.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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