Egypt's interim prime minister announced yesterday the resignation of his cabinet, a surprise move that could be designed in part to pave the way for the nation's military chief to leave his defence minister's post to run for president.
Hazem el-Beblawi's military-backed government was sworn in on July 16, less than two weeks after Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, the defence minister, ousted Islamist president Mohammed Mursi after a year in office. Its ministers will remain in their posts in a caretaker capacity until the new president picks a prime minister to form a new cabinet.
The government's resignation, announced by Beblawi in a live TV broadcast, came amid a host of strikes, including one by public-transport workers and garbage collectors. An acute shortage of cooking gas has also been making front-page news the past few days.
Egypt's political system gives most powers to the president. The prime minister usually handles day-to-day economic management, but does not set key policies.
Under deposed president Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years until his 2011 ousting, the prime minister was perceived as a scapegoat for government failings.
It was not clear whether Beblawi will stay at the helm of a new government or will step aside for a new prime minister. Local media has repeatedly reported that he planned to reshuffle his government but not resign.
He said the cabinet's decision to resign was made during yesterday's weekly government meeting, but he gave no details.
Beblawi has often been derided in the media for his perceived indecisiveness and inability to introduce effective remedies for the country's economic woes. He has also been criticised for the security forces' inability to prevent high-profile terror attacks blamed on militants sympathetic to Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood.
The prime minister acknowledged the difficult conditions in which his cabinet functioned, but suggested that Egypt was in a better place now than it was when he first took office. He also pointed out that while members of his cabinet may not have represented the nation's top talents, they were experts in their fields who accepted cabinet posts at a very difficult time.
"The cabinet has, in the last six or seven months, responsibly and dutifully shouldered a very difficult and delicate burden and I believe that, in most cases, we have achieved good results," he said. "But like any endeavour, it cannot all be success, but rather within the boundaries of what is humanly possible."
The goal, he added, was to take Egypt out of a "narrow tunnel" brought about by security, political and economic pressures. Commenting on the flurry of strikes, he cautioned that this was not the time for making demands. "We must sacrifice our personal and narrow interests for the benefit of the nation."
A presidential bid by the popular Sisi has been widely anticipated, and leaving him out of the next cabinet will likely be followed by an announcement from the 59-year-old soldier that he is running.
Sisi has already secured the support of Egypt's top military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to launch a presidential bid.
Already, the career infantry officer trained in Britain and the US has been acting in a somewhat presidential manner. He paid a visit to Russia earlier this month, when he secured the Kremlin's good will and its blessing for his likely presidential bid, and negotiated a large arms deal.
Last week, his wife made her first public appearance since Mursi's ousting, seated next to him in a military ceremony.
The resignation followed the adoption last month of a new constitution drafted by a mostly liberal and secular panel, and two months ahead of a presidential election, now expected to be held in April. The charter gives the military the exclusive right to pick the defence minister for the next two, four-year presidential terms.