Egypt’s new cabinet has been sworn in as the ruling military council tries to appease protesters demanding faster reforms and a deeper purge of former President Hosni Mubarak’s allies.
More than half of the ministers have been changed, including those holding the foreign, finance and trade portfolios. Some of those removed were appointed by Mubarak.
The new ministers, including the foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, took the oath of office in the presence of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council, official news agency MENA said.
Protesters camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have demanded faster political and economic reform, a swift move to democratic civilian rule, and the removal from government of members of deposed Mubarak’s now defunct political party.
Mubarak, who has been in hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April, is due to go on trial on August 3.
Regular reports of continued health problems have led to speculation that he might never face trial and heightened suspicions the army want to avoid a public humiliation for their former commander in chief.
Earlier, Egypt’s council of military rulers indicated it will not allow international monitors to observe upcoming parliamentary elections.
Major-General Mamdouh Shaheen, who presented the new election law to reporters on Wednesday, said barring foreign monitors was a necessary step to protect Egypt’s sovereignty.
“We have nothing to hide,” he said.
He said the generals “reject anything that affects our sovereignty” and that Egyptian election monitors will observe the process instead.
The decision was criticised by activists, who said it raises questions about the transparency of the first elections after Mubarak’s toppling and urged the military to reconsider.
Hafez Abou Saada, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, said promises of free and fair elections from the military are not enough, and noted that barring international monitors mirrors the line adopted by Mubarak’s government.
“International monitors are part of any modern elections,” he said.
“Many countries are watching what is happening in Egypt. This is not a very positive signal.”
The new law also lowers the minimum age for candidacy for the lower house from 30 to 25, apparently to allow youth who led the 18-day uprising against Mubarak.
Rules for the upper house remain the same: candidates must be at least 35 years old, and a newly elected president will appoint 100 of the body’s 390 members.
Shaheen, the military council member. said the judiciary will oversee the whole electoral process, limiting the role of the interior ministry, which many Egyptians say remains tainted by its many years as the Mubarak government’s enforcer, and was responsible for much of the rigging in previous elections.
The voting itself, which will be for the upper and lower houses of parliament at the same time, will be spread over a month before the end of 2011, and the army will set their date by decree before the end of next month, Shaheen said.
The final election law has also brushed aside demands by political groups that aimed to shield the electoral system against vote buying, rampant under the Mubarak government, and the return of former regime officials by barring individual candidates.
Instead, the law allows for half of the 504 seats up for grabs to be contested by individual candidates instead of party lists.