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Heeding protesters’ calls, Egypt alters Cabinet

By Sarah El Deeb
Associated Press / July 18, 2011

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CAIRO - Egypt’s prime minister named 12 new Cabinet members yesterday in a reshuffle under pressure from protesters demanding a purge of remnants of the former regime, state television reported.

Also yesterday, Farid el-Deeb, a lawyer for Hosni Mubarak, said the ousted president had suffered a stroke and was in a coma. Assem Azzam, the head of Mubarak’s medical team, quickly denied the report and said he had suffered a bout of low blood pressure and dizziness. Azzam said Mubarak, 83, was stable.

The former president has been in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April. He is set to face trial in about two weeks on charges he ordered the killings of protesters during the 18-day uprising that ousted him on Feb. 11.

State TV dubbed the new government lineup the “Revolution Cabinet.’’ Most of the ministers were relative newcomers, clearly a way to avoid further criticism by the protesters.

Thousands of Egyptians have returned to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s uprising, complaining that change has come too slow under the military council that took over power.

Even after the Cabinet reshuffle, many of the protesters in the square, more than a week into their sit-in, said they have no intention of quitting.

“The real power brokers are the generals of Hosni Mubarak,’’ said activist Hossam el-Hamalawy. “Nothing has really changed on the ground.’’

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is delivering on a promise for a Cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to end the new round of mass protests. A final lineup is expected today.

The most prominent among those replaced is Zahi Hawass, antiquities chief. For more than a decade, he has been the international face of Egypt’s archeology, with his trademark “Indiana Jones’’ hat that turned him into an instantly recognizable global icon. Hawass, however, has been the target of a series of heavily publicized protests by archeology graduates who accused him of corruption.

He has been accused of being too close to Mubarak and his family, along with former culture minister Farouq Hosni, himself a protege of the Mubaraks who had served in the Cabinet for 25 years until he was pushed out after the revolution.

Sharaf accepted the resignation of Finance Minister Samir Radwan after his new budget was dismissed by many protesters as conservative. One of the main forces behind the uprising was crippling poverty.

Radwan will be replaced by Hezam el-Biblawi, a former UN official and prominent economist. Biblawi was also named deputy prime minister.

Sharaf named new ministers of transport, military production, higher education, communication, agriculture, and health. The ministers of religious endowments, local development, trade and industry, and civil aviation have also been replaced. Sharaf had accepted the resignation of the foreign minister on Saturday, naming a relatively new face, Mohammed Kamel Omar, once Egypt’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as the new chief diplomat.

Tension has been on the rise in Egypt over what many perceive as the military rulers’ reluctance to act against Mubarak and his loyalists.

Justice for the families of nearly 900 people killed during the uprising is a key demand of protesters. They are demanding a public trial for Mubarak and other regime officials accused of complicity in the killings.

A conviction could carry the death penalty for Mubarak, and activists suspect his lawyer may be using health problems as a ruse to sway public opinion and perhaps even win amnesty.

Deeb has made other claims recently about Mubarak’s deteriorating health that were also denied by senior medical officials.

Mubarak was treated last year for cancer in his gall bladder and pancreas, and Deeb said last month that he may be suffering a recurrence that spread to his stomach. However, two senior Egyptian medical officials said at the time he did not have the disease.

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