Egypt interim government resigns unexpectedly

As Kevin Connelly reports, this government has not been popular with people in Egypt

Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi has unexpectedly announced the resignation of his government.

Mr Beblawi said the decision was taken "in light of the current situation the country is going through".

It comes amid a series of strikes, including one by public sector workers and rubbish collectors, and an acute shortage of cooking gas.

Mr Beblawi was appointed in July after the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi following mass protests.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed and thousands of others detained in a crackdown by the security forces on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement to which Mr Morsi belongs.

Militants based in the Sinai peninsula have meanwhile stepped up attacks on government, police and military personnel, killing hundreds.

Analysis

The government's resignation has taken many by surprise. Despite being severely criticised by some politicians and people in the street, its departure was seen as unlikely at such a crucial moment.

The country is preparing for a presidential election in the next two months, and Field Marshal Sisi, the armed forces chief and minister of defence, has yet to say whether he is standing or not.

How far Monday's announcement is connected remains unclear. In his speech, Mr Beblawi did not specify why he had decided to step aside. However, the current instability cannot be overlooked.

The government has failed to deal with the strikes that have been going on for weeks. The return of students to schools and universities has also been postponed for about a month for no clear reason. Some activists have claimed that Mr Beblawi has had only a ceremonial role, with Field Marshal Sisi deciding government policy. However, cabinet sources have denied that, insisting that the defence minister has only had a say over military matters.

'Difficult responsibility'

Mr Beblawi did not give a clear reason for the cabinet's resignation in his televised address.

He acknowledged that Egypt had witnessed a sharp rise in strikes, but said no government in the world could have fulfilled all the demands of its people in such a short period of time.

"The cabinet has over the past six or seven months shouldered a very difficult responsibility... in most cases the results were good."

"The country is facing huge dangers. It is time we stood together to protect it and help it get out of this narrow tunnel," he added.

"This is neither the time for demands by public workers nor the time for personal interests, but the time for us to put our country's interests above all others."

Mr Beblawi also noted that his government had completed the first part of the road-map outlined by the interim authorities by holding a referendum on a new constitution in January.

Government spokesman Hani Saleh told the AFP news agency that there was a "feeling that new blood is needed".

"Egypt is moving forward. This decision will not affect foreign relations or internal stability," he added.

Mr Beblawi has been criticised in local media for his perceived indecisiveness and inability to deal with the country's economic woes.

Textile workers demand higher wages during a strike in Mahalla al-Qubra in Egypt (15 February 2014) There has been a sharp rise in strikes by workers at vital state facilities and key industries

The state-run newspaper al-Ahram said Mr Beblawi had been asked to stay on as prime minister until a successor was named. It cited unnamed sources as saying that would be the Housing Minister, Ibrahim Mihlib.

The cabinet's decision to submit its resignation to interim President Adly Mansour was made after a 30-minute meeting on Monday attended by Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, defence minister and first deputy prime minister.

The field marshal is widely expected to announce soon that he will step down from both posts and run for president.

According to the new constitution approved in January, an election must take place by mid-April. Correspondents say Field Marshal Sisi would be likely to win, given his popularity and the lack of any serious rivals.

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