Egypt's Sissi Restructures Government but Leaves Key Posts Unchanged

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi delivers his speech at the lower house of parliament in Tokyo, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi delivers his speech at the lower house of parliament in Tokyo, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Credit: Koji Sasahara/ AP

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reshuffled his government on Wednesday, naming nine new ministers and creating a new portfolio for business but leaving the key ministries of defense, foreign affairs or interior untouched.

The most important changes in the widely anticipated reshuffle came in the portfolios of investment, finance, tourism and water resources. El-Sissi, in office since June 2014, swore in the new ministers at the al-Ittihadiyah palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, according to state television.

The changes come at a time when Egypt's economy is reeling from a slump in the vital tourism sector, follow last week's devaluation of its weakening currency and as security forces struggle to crush an insurgency by Islamic militants.

The reshuffle is the first since September, when el-Sissi named Sherif Ismail prime minister.

Egyptian authorities rarely share with the public the reasons behind sacking government ministers, prompting media speculation and uncertainty. However, Wednesday's replacements appeared to highlight the troubles faced by Egypt in some sectors. Reflecting efforts to revive the country's ailing economy is the creation of a new business sector portfolio, which will be mandated with encouraging and shepherding small start-ups.

The replacement of the water minister, for example, follows the lack of any tangible progress in drawn-out negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction of a massive dam on the Nile by the Horn of Africa nation that will most likely affect Cairo's vital share of the river's water.

Naming a new minister for civil aviation comes less than five months after a Russian airliner crashed over the Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm, el-Sheikh. Russia said the crash, which killed all 224 people on board, was caused by an explosive device and Sinai affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for downing the plane.

The October 31 crash decimated Egypt's already slumping tourism, with Russia suspending all flights to Egypt and Britain halting flights to Sharm el-Sheikh. The tourism minister was also replaced on Wednesday.

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