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Interim Egypt government brings in policy changes

The interim, military-backed government in Egypt has announced significant policy changes. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for the release of the ousted president.

Egypt government ministers in Cairo. Photo: dpa

Ägypten, Übergangsregierung, Al-Beblawi, El-Baradei

The policy changes affect international debt negotiations, state-subsidized food distribution and the status of refugees from Syria. The Egyptian army deposed President Mohammed Morsi on July 3. It has set out a roadmap for an interim period leading to parliamentary elections in about six months.

Chancellor Merkel said during her televised 'Summer Interview' on the ARD channel on Sunday: "I share the view of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who said that Mr. Morsi should be released."

Aid from Arab states

Egypt's new planning minister said that aid from Arab states would carry Egypt through its transition period. Ashraf al Arabi, a US-educated economist who served in the same post under the deposed government until May, said on Monday there was no need to restart negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"The time is not appropriate to begin new negotiations with the IMF," Arabi told reporters, as he announced he had accepted the post of planning minister. "Arab aid will enable Egypt to get through the transitional stage in a good way."

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have offered the new regime in Egypt $12 billion (9.2 billion euros) in cash, loans and fuel aid. Last year Egypt negotiated with the IMF for a $4.8 billion loan program but was unable to come to an agreement.

In a briefing at the US embassy US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said on Monday that the United States will not try to impose its model on Egypt nor will it support specific parties or personalities. On a two-day visit to meet Egypt's interim leaders, the military and members of the business community, Burns said "I did not come with American solutions, nor did I come to lecture anyone. We will not try to impose our model on Egypt."

Nor did Burns foresee an all-out civil war similar to that in Syria: "I don't think that Egypt is in danger of repeating the tragedy that we see in Syria today," he said.

But Burns did call on the military to refrain from politically motivated arrests and asked: "If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible?" He also urged those opposed to Morsi's ouster to participate in the political process peacefully.

Supply and culture ministries

A general in the police force, Mohamed Abu Shadi, accepted a post to head Egypt's supply ministry Monday. It manages the state subsidized food and fuel system. Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat and also buys diesel to distribute at subsidized prices.

Ines Abdel Dayem who was fired as head of the Cairo Opera House by Morsi's culture minister in May, has been named the new culture minister. Dayem, a French-educated flautist, announced on Monday that she had accepted the post . Her sacking, along with an Islamist parliamentarian's call for a ban on ballet, prompted performers and cultural figures to stage a sit-in at the culture ministry lasting several weeks.

Syrian refugees

The status in Egypt of refugees from Syria is also changing. Under the previous regime support had been given to the opposition in Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood had offered cheap housing and food aid to Syrians who fled their homeland. The United Nations estimates that some 70,000 Syrians are registered in Egypt, although the actual number may be twice that since many have opted not to register.

Last week, a popular TV presenter Youssef el Husseini warned Syrians taking part in pro-Morsi protests they would be beaten with shoes if caught. "If you are a man, you return to your country and solve your problem there," he said on his night talk show on private ONTV. "If you interfere in Egypt, you will beaten by 30 shoes," el-Husseini added. His comments met with a storm of protest via social media sites.

Five days after Morsi was pushed from office, Egyptian authorities implemented new entry rules for Syrians, requiring them to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Those already in the country with no valid visa or resident permit are at risk of arrest.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said the measures were temporary. But it also urged Syrians to stay away from protests by the Muslim Brotherhood against the new political order.

jm/mz (Reuters, AP)