Egypt's new premier, Ibrahim Mahleb, is pursuing meetings with candidates for ministerial posts Thursday to form a new government almost two months ahead of a decisive presidential poll.
Mahleb, minister of housing in the outgoing cabinet, took the helm after pressure heaped on outgoing Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi forced him to announce the resignation of his government Monday, a move that surprised even some in the cabinet, in office since July 2013, following the military ouster of president Mohamed Morsi.
Most of cabinet portfolios, expected to be 33 according to state news agency MENA, were assigned Wednesday, with a full swearing-in expected to take place by Saturday.
At least 15 members of the 36-member outgoing cabinet are to be retained in their posts. These include Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, Information Minister Doreya Sharaf El-Din and Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou.
Mostafa Madoubli was appointed housing minister on Thursday. Madoubli was director of the Regional Office for Arab States UN-Habitat programme. Before moving to the UN, Madoubli was the head of the housing ministry's urban planning authority.
Twelve ministeres have also been amalgamated into six portfolios, to the dismay of some. These include the ministries of trade and industry, planning and cooperation, youth and sports, higher education and scientific research, local and administrative development as well as transitional justice and parliamentary affairs.
Ahmed Kamal of the leftist Popular Current movement slammed the merger decisions, particularly that of youth and sports, as "random."
Other observers believe that the merging in a short-lived cabinet, expected to be kept on until a presidential poll due mid-April, will help focus attention on the security and economic fronts.
Analysts say Mahlab, a Mubarak-era MP and once a longtime head of Egypt's state-owned Arab Contractors Company — a Middle East construction giant — will be faced with a raft of challenges amid a spate of militant attacks and labour strikes, an imploding economy and plummeting tourism.
Melhelb, 64, said Tuesday that fighting an Islamist insurgency that has taken its toll across Egypt in recent months would be a priority for his government. Shootings and bombings, mostly targeting the police, have been on the rise since Morsi's removal.
Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will keep his post as defence minister in the new government, official sources have said, dismissing speculation he was going to resign to announce his highly anticipated presidential bid.
El-Sisi, whose popularity has skyrocketed since he led Morsi's ouster, is tipped to secure a landslide win if he runs for the top post. But he has yet to announce his candidacy.