Mubarak has unveiled his new cabinet. According to AFP, the line-up was announced on state television a short time ago. Not surprisingly Defense Minister Mohammed Tantawi has kept his job, as has Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit. What is significant is how little has changed: among key posts the only people to be replaced were the interior and finance ministers.

AFP describes the outgoing interior minister, Habib Al-Adly, as "widely hated" - to which I can only say, 'so what else is new?' Over the years Egyptian interior ministers, who are in charge of the police, have proven to be pretty much interchangable. They tend to be slightly thuggish, invariably unpopular figures and almost always end their careers as scapegoats during a cabinet reshuffle. Dumping an interior minister has traditionally been a safety valve for Mubarak - there's always a sigh of relief when one goes, even though everyone knows the new guy is going to be pretty much the same as his predecessor.

Finance ministers, too, have traditionally been the people Mubarak throws out when he wants to show he is 'hearing the People's voice.' The problem, of course, is that this time the People are not complaining about an austerity program pushed by foreign donors or a new agreement with the IMF - the traditional sort of things that turn an Egyptian finance minister into the fall guy. The protesters in the streets of Cairo are complaining about the entire system of government

In an odd side note Mubarak also dumped longtime Culture Minister Farouk Hosni. If that name vaguely rings a bell it is because Hosni, last year, narrowly lost his bid to become head of UNESCO after international attention began to focus on his tendency to pander to anti-Semites in the Egyptian parliament (he famously promised to burn every Israeli book in the Egypt's libraries). I'm no fan of Farouk Hosni, but at this moment is this really where Mubarak ought to be directing his attention?

What does the new cabinet mean? At best, it indicates how profoundly divorced from reality Mubarak now is: that he fails to understand that what is happening in his country is fundamentally different from anything he has ever faced. Again, that is the best case scenario. The other - and, I fear, more likely - explanation is that Mubarak is sending a signal that he intends to dig in and fight. If so, that will be bad news for everyone.

 


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