EGYPT: Political tensions grow as former ambassador to U.S. is appointed foreign minister


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Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has appointed former Ambassador Mohamed El-Orabi as the country’s new foreign minister, state news agency MENA announced Sunday.

El-Orabi, who has previously served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, Great Britain, Germany and Kuwait, will replace Nabil Elaraby, who will move to become the Arab League’s secretary general. Elaraby’s nomination to head the league was opposed by Egypt’s political elite and activists, who believed he articulated a bolder foreign policy less dependent on Washington and the West.


Prior to Shara’s appointing El-Orabi, a number of activist groups, including the April 6th Youth Movement, called on the prime minister to put the matter up for national debate. It is unclear whether El-Orabi will prove a popular choice among the majority if Egyptians.

The naming of a new foreign minister comes as Sharaf and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are under pressure to postpone September’s parliamentary elections. On Sunday, Sharaf reiterated he was in favor of delaying what many regarded as the country’s most crucial poll in decades: “Postponing the elections would give the chance for a larger number of political parties to develop,” the prime minister said while answering questions on news website

Non-Islamic politicians in Egypt, scurrying to acquire the necessary 5,000 signatures to form new parties since former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power on Feb. 11, have complained that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and best-organized party, would benefit from the poll at the expense of burgeoning liberal and secularist parties.

The timing of the elections was set for September after 77.2% of Egyptians voted in favor of constitutional amendments on March 19. The amendments were voted on as a bloc and proposed that parliamentary elections should be held in September followed by presidential elections two months later. The Brotherhood announced that it will be competing for 45% to 50% of the parliament’s seats.

The Brotherhood has also announced that it will not run a candidate for president. Prominent Brotherhood member Abdul Monem aboul Fotouh was officially axed from the group on Saturday after revealing his plans to run as an independent candidate.

“Following lengthy debate by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura [guidance] Council, a decision has been reached by a majority of votes to dismiss Dr. Abdel Monem aboul Fotouh, who announced that he will run for president in defiance of the unanimous decision by the group not to field candidates for the presidential elections,” a statement on the Brotherhood’s official website read on Saturday.


Aboul Fotouh later reacted by saying that he will not give up his candidacy. He said he was “not concerned” by the group’s decision to expel him and that he was confident many Brotherhood members, including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, will vote for him.


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-- Amro Hassan in Cairo