After Egypt’s Cabinet unexpectedly resigned yesterday, the country’s president asked outgoing Housing Minister Ibrahim Mahlab to serve as interim prime minister and form a new government. An inconspicuous member of the old Cabinet, Mahlab had actually been—surprise!—a personal friend of deposed President Hosni Mubarak and an official in the (now defunct) National Democratic Party. Welcome back, old times.
Mahlab was one of 44 people whom Mubarak personally appointed in 2010 to the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament. He is a civil engineer by training and is CEO of the colossal state-owned construction company Arab Contractors. While he might reinstate many of the same Cabinet members again, Mahlab is also expected to stack the body with remnants of the old regime.
Outgoing interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi—who was appointed after the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi was ousted last July—did not give clear reasons for his government’s resignation. Most observers speculate that the move is meant to clear the way for Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to step down from his posts as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, defense minister, and first deputy prime minister and announce his presidential candidacy. The plan for those elections is typically ambiguous, but they are required by the constitution to take place by April. With no clear contenders at present, Sisi is widely expected to win.
Reliving the days of Mubarak cronyism makes many Egyptians uncomfortable. Even though Mahlab will almost certainly be an “Extremely Interim Prime Minister,” given the volatility of Egyptian politics, nearly all of the country’s leaders at this point have ties to Mubarak and/or his powerful military complex. So, the trend will probably continue.