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Military's role in Egypt no cause for concern

Egypt's army chief surprisingly takes the post of deputy prime minister in the interim government. The step has raised concerns that the army plans to permanently interfere in the crisis-ridden country's politics.

This image released by the Egyptian Presidency on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 shows interim President Adly Mansour, center, with his new cabinet ministers at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's interim president has sworn in a new Cabinet, the first since the ouster of the Islamist president by the military nearly two weeks ago. The new government, sworn in Tuesday, is led by Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, an economist, and features the promotion of Defence Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who ousted Mohammed Morsi on July 3, to deputy prime minister. He also retains the defence portfolio. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

Egypt's caretaker Cabinet

Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi didn't takelong to get his team together. In just a few days he assembled a provisional team of experts for his Cabinet. But he surprisingly handed the post of deputy prime minister to the head of Egypt's military, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is also Egypt's defense minister. This has raised fears that the army could continue to hold the reins after it ousted President Mohammed Morsi two weeks ago.

Political scientist Sally Khalifa Isaac Atwan from Cairo University does not share these concerns. She views the new caretaker Cabinet positively.

"The new interim government is okay in terms of a transitional government that is majorly composed of technocrats," Atwan told DW. "You have very good experts, especially in terms of economic experts."

Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is seen during a news conference in Cairo on the release of seven members of the Egyptian security forces kidnapped by Islamist militants in Sinai, May 22, 2013. Picture taken May 22, 2013. To match Newsmaker EGYPT-PROTESTS/COMMANDER REUTERS/Stringer (EGYPT - Tags: MILITARY HEADSHOT POLITICS)

Egypt's defense minister el-Sissi is now also deputy prime minister

Atwan said it was representative of major forces, despite the absence of Islamists. This was not due to a conscious exclusion by Prime Minister el-Beblawi but rather their refusal to participate in any interim government.

Defense Minister el-Sissi was mainly concerned with general security issues and not day-to-day politics. "In terms of interim ministers, I cannot really see a role of the military and there has been wide consensus on el-Beblawi," Atwan said.

Army as keepers of national interests

Political scientist Hamadi El-Aouni from Berlin's Free University said he does not believe that el-Sissi even wants to be the strong man in the Cabinet. His nomination as deputy prime minister was more an honorable task than an increase of competence.

"Deputies in Egypt only have a protocolary standing," El-Aouni told DW.

Aside from the position in the interim government, the army by all means plays a central role on the Nile. The military's position was important for national reconciliation, as well as for future political and security issues, Atwan said.

"They had an interest in their intervention in preserving Egypt's national security which appeared very much on the brink of collapse under the Muslim Brotherhood," she said.

According to El-Aouni, the armed forces viewed themselves as rear cover for the police, which could be overstrained in view of the ongoing major demonstrations of Morsi supporters.

The army overthrew Morsi on July 3 and proceeded to take leading representatives of his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, into custody. The military and many liberal Egyptians accused Morsi of fueling the escalating divide in society between religious and non-religious groups. Since the overthrow, Morsi supporters have directed their anger at the army leadership under el-Sissi. Following the swearing-in ceremony on July 16, street battles between the police and demonstrators left at least seven people dead in Cairo.

A supporter of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi hugs a Mursi poster during clashes with police and anti-Mursi protesters on the 6th October Bridge and Ramses square in central Cairo July 15, 2013. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Protests by Morsi supporters continue

Military wants to maintain economic power

Beyond the self-defined protection of national interests, the armed forces also have an eye on Egypt's enormous economic power.

"They have a big share, almost 40 percent, of the Egyptian national economy," Atwan said. And the army, with some half a million soldiers, doesn't want to lose its grip on this economic force as a result of liberalization or restructuring. However, concerns about the control over factories, holiday resorts and estates were not a reason for the military to overthrow Morsi's government.

"That was already secured under the Brotherhood," Atwan said. "So it doesn't figure as a new element they need to secure."

A major task of the new government will be to get the paralyzed economy going again. Prime Minister el-Beblawi is a financial expert. In the 35-person Cabinet, there are several ministers who already held their posts under Morsi. The interior minister and minister of electricity remain in office. They don't however belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. Three women also belong to the new government. They are responsible for the sectors health, environment and information.

epa02828225 Hazem Beblawi EPA/STRINGER +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Interim Prime Minister el-Beblawi has to tackle Egypt's economic problems

It remains uncertain whether the Muslim Brotherhood will become involved in the work of the interim government. The party has referred to the new Cabinet as unlawful and continues to insist that Morsi is the elected head of state. Political scientist El-Aouni doesn't see any room for the Islamic group in an interim government. The Brotherhood's political balance sheet is crushing.

"Their phase was really very terrible for Egypt," he said. The Muslim Brotherhood could only become a dialogue partner were it to transform into a democratic party without a religious reference, parallel organizations and the prominent role of the Brotherhood leadership, El-Aouni said.

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