Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi Put Egypt On the Brink

The names of ministers in Egypt's new government have been trickling into the media over the past several days with the official announcement expected today. While the majority of the figures who will make up Prime Minister Hesham Qandil's government have surfaced, including the so-called sovereign ministries, the result has left many observers as stunned as when Morsi appointed the little-known Qandil as the government's head. The government has much in common with Qandil, an experienced bureaucrat with no overt political allegiances, but there are signs that the seemingly neutral character of the cabinet has many worried.

Not all of Egypt's new ministers are bureaucrats either with a number of key positions in the control of the military, Muslim Brotherhood, or the old regime. Perhaps most notably, the position of Interior Minister, a position that has historically been among the most hated among Egyptians for its role in cracking down on dissent, was given to an aide to the former minister. The effect of this transfer may appease those who hoped for a new minister, but in terms of moving away from the old system makes little headway. The information ministry, another of the sovereign ministries, will be controlled by Saleh Abdoul Maqsoud, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi who heads Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will remain in control of the defense ministry, a position he has held since 1991 and Mohamed Kamel Amr, the foreign minister, will keep his position.

With the most influential ministries controlled by SCAF, members of the old regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood, the new government does little to address the demands of revolutionaries. Critics say that Morsi's appointment of a bureaucrat as his Prime Minister and his promised government of technocrats is a way for Morsi to dominate the political scene. It is more likely that the goal in avoiding adding another voice to the political scene is meant to uphold the already tenuous balance between Morsi and the military council. The deals that were struck between the old powers and the new remain very much in a state of uncertainty, especially as the Constituent Assembly, the body tasked with writing Egypt's constitution, debates the status of the military and decides oversight of its budget.

While the SCAF-issued addendum to the Constitutional Declaration shields the military from the work of the Constituent Assembly, the character of the new government throws other elements of society into a state of uncertainty, namely liberals and the hard-line Salafists. Today the Nour Party, Egypt's most prominent Salafi party announced it would not participate in the coming government after being offered the environmental ministry. After winning a large portion of the now-defunct parliament, Nour members saw the offer as an insult. On the other side, the liberal Adl Party spoke out against the appointments saying the Brotherhood is looking, as usual, to dominate the political scene.

Discontent on either side of the President and a tenuous relationship with the powerful military leaves Egypt on uncertain ground. Shadi Hamid called the new government "uninspiring," referring to the large number of bureaucrats and little known government figures. Morsi may be trying to walk the line between having too many cooks in the kitchen and satisfying the demands of a diverse opposition but in the process may have alienated the same people who helped elect him. The uneasy bedfellows that made Morsi and the April 6 Movement, for example, allies in the election, now threaten the viability of  a government where the only voices are coming from SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood.