Speaker: Egyptian military leaders will shake up government soon

Egyptian protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against the interim military leadership in Cairo on Sunday.

Story highlights

  • Military leaders will alter Egypt's cabinet within 48 hours, the speaker says
  • He adds the coming moves are "satisfying" and respect "parliament's dignity"
  • Aboul Fotouh and Amre Moussa are the presidential front-runners, analyst says
  • The parliament had called for Prime Minister Ganzouri's government to be dismissed
The speaker of Egypt's lower parliament announced Sunday night that the country's military leaders plan to shake up the Cabinet under Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri over the next 48 hours, state television reported.
Saad al-Katatni said that he got a phone call Sunday from a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces during which he was told that the military leaders plan to announce changes to the Egyptian government in the coming days. State TV had reported earlier Sunday that the council would form a new government "within hours."
It was not immediately clear if Ganzouri would remain as prime minister, or what kind of changes could be forthcoming.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with representatives from several political parties, al-Katatni said that he found the military council's proposal to be "satisfying and (that it) returned parliament's dignity."
Hours earlier, al-Katatni announced that his chamber planned to suspend its session for a week to protest military leaders allegedly ignoring calls to dismiss the civilian government led by Ganzouri.
He said that the move was made after discussions with Ganzouri, after which he concluded that relations between the parliament and the prime minister's government were so strained that such a drastic step was needed.
Ganzouri -- who late last year became a prime minister, the same post he held between 1996 and 1999 under former President Hosni Mubarak -- has been a frequent target of criticism, particularly from al-Katatni's Freedom and Justice Party, which is the political arm of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
After being banned for years under Mubarak, the Brotherhood has become a force in the new and still-evolving era of Egyptian politics having claimed the lion's share of seats in parliament.
"This was an important test of power: Who is governing Egypt -- the (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) or the parliament?" said Diaa Rashwan, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Tensions between Islamist groups, including the Brotherhood, and the ruling Supreme Council have risen in the two weeks since 10 out of 23 presidential candidates were disqualified for various reasons. The election is set to start May 23.
Those knocked off the ballot include the Muslim Brotherhood's preferred candidate, 62-year-old multimillionaire businessman Khairat el-Shater, because of unresolved issues surrounding his pardon after being imprisoned for 12 years under Mubarak.
The group's candidate is now the lesser-known Mohamed Morsi.
Another excluded candidate was Hazem Abu Ismael, an ultra-conservative Islamist banned due to information that his mother holds an American passport, which is against the rules of candidacy. Egypt's health ministry on Sunday denied a report that one man died during a sit-in protesting Ismael's disqualification, though it did say dozens were injured when plainclothes men attacked protesters.
While Sunday's announcement would appear to be a victory for the Brotherhood, Rashwan predicted military leaders "will not sacrifice Kamal Ganzouri" and that they'll instead try to form a new Cabinet -- proposing that it includes Freedom and Justice Party members -- with Ganzouri staying on as prime minister.
"I don't think this crisis is just over," Rashwan said.
The power struggle could take even more turns after next month's election.
The Brotherhood has been trying to woo members of Ismael's Salafi party -- which controls about 20% of seats in parliament -- to rally behind Morsi. But those efforts took a hit Saturday, when several top Salafi groups announced their support in the presidential race for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh instead.
The endorsement helps cement the front-runner status of Aboul Fotouh, a doctor and former Brotherhood member known for his moderate view of Islamic law.
Political analyst and prominent Egyptian journalist Hisham Kassem said the Salafis, with their endorsement, may be angling for more influence if Aboul Fotouh becomes president and also point to that party's own tensions with the Brotherhood. But he questioned whether the endorsement will scare off liberals who have also backed Aboul Fotouh.
"We now have a two-horse race between (former Arab League secretary-general) Amre Moussa and Aboul Fotouh," Kassem said.