CAIRO Egypt swore in 10 new ministers on Sunday in a Cabinet shake-up aimed at improving the government’s handling of the country’s ailing economy ahead of talks this week with the International Monetary Fund over a badly needed $4.8 billion loan.
The reshuffle, which President Mohammed Morsi had promised in response to public anger over Egypt’s economic malaise, affected two key ministries, the interior and finance. It also solidified Islamist control of the government, putting three portfolios in the hands of members of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The dire state of Egypt’s economy was punctuated Sunday by new central bank figures that put December’s foreign currency reserves at $15.01 billion, down $26 million from a month earlier. The reserves have dropped by more than half since the uprising that ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The central bank said last month that current reserve levels represent a “critical minimum.”
Morsi met with the new ministers after their swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in Cairo where they discussed ways to revive tourism and attract foreign investors, a presidential official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, meanwhile, said he stressed in his first meeting with the new ministers the need for immediate action to stabilize the economy.
At the heart of those efforts lies the $4.8 billion loan that Egypt has requested from the IMF. Cairo says the funds are needed to bolster confidence in the country’s economy and attract foreign investors.
Egypt asked the IMF for a delay in the talks on the loan after a wave of political turmoil erupted in December over a contentious new constitution. Mass protests and street violence tied to the constitution dealt yet another blow to major foreign currency earners, including tourism and foreign investment.
The unrest also sparked a rush on U.S. dollars by worried residents and led to a drop in the Egyptian pound, which shed nearly four percent of its value against the dollar over the past two weeks.
The opposition, a coalition of liberal, secular-leaning, and leftist groups, was not offered any seats in the new Cabinet and has said that any government shake-up that doesn’t replace Kandil falls short of what is needed.