Egypt's interim government swore in a new cabinet this week, which liberal politicians praised for its diversity. Among some 30 ministers, there were technocrats, two minority Coptic Christians, and three women — the most ever for an Egyptian government.
But there were no Islamists — zero — a fact that made it easy for members of the Muslim Brotherhood and rival Salafists, who are even more conservative, to dismiss the new leadership as illegitimate.
A spokesman for the new government insisted that the interim president, Adly Mansour, tried to be as inclusive as possible, supposedly offering the Brotherhood and Salafists some jobs in the cabinet, only to be turned down. Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, denied the government's version of events, saying the group wasn't offered any jobs. "The whole thing is illegitimate," he said.
Given such deep divisions, can a government with no Islamists hope to keep the country together long enough to hold new elections in six months, as Mansour has promised? Some experts believe the cabinet is diverse enough to constitute a step in the right direction, even if it does exclude religious parties that dominated last year's election.
Former President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military two weeks ago following widespread protests against his rule, did his best to deny power to everyone but Islamists, after all. The inclusion of women in three posts — including the powerful information and health ministries — will "be a redress to Egyptian women," says Mohammad Hisham Abeih at Al-Monitor, "who were marginalized by the Muslim Brotherhood and who were at the forefront of the massive June 30 demonstrations that toppled it."
Mansour also renamed the justice ministry the Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation Ministry, which the Beirut, Lebanon, Daily Star called "a nod to the revolutionary youth groups that engineered the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak and the massive protests that preceded Morsi's ouster." Youth groups want justice for protesters who were killed since Mubarak's ouster.
However, there is no denying that the cabinet selections have inflamed already severe tensions. "Whether or not cabinet posts were offered" to Islamists, says Patrick Kingsley in Britain's Guardian, "the Brotherhood's sense of injustice at being frozen out of the wider political picture is very real." Mansour can hardly be surprised, then, that the swearing-in of his ministers prompted thousands of protesters to march through Cairo.
Still, rapprochement with Morsi's supporters is probably impossible in the short run. With members of the Muslim Brotherhood still violently protesting in the streets, it's hard to see how top officials could have accepted an invitation to join Mansour's government even if it was extended.
Egypt's politics is now a sort of Gordian knot, with the Brothers at its center. A meaningful political consensus can't be built without them, but it's hard to see how one can be forged with them, given the fury on all sides now. [Christian Science Monitor]