Islamists installed in Egypt state institutions
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Islamist leadership took a new move Tuesday to put its stamp on the country's government, appointing members of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood as provincial governors and installing ultraconservatives and other Islamists in the state's top human rights body and a powerful media council.
The shake-up was the latest step by President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to reshape state institutions that were long the monopoly of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, his ruling party and the military that backed him.
Supporters have praised the moves as part of a drive to cleanse the system of Mubarak loyalists after Morsi was inaugurated in late June as the country's first freely elected president. But the heavy infusion of Islamists into government institutions has raised fears of Brotherhood domination monopolizing power as much as Mubarak did and moving Egypt into a more religious rule.
The governorships of Egypt's 27 provinces have long been prime posts for solidifying the president's power. The governors are appointed by the president and generally implement his policies. Under Mubarak, the positions went to retired military generals or ruling party loyalists.
On Tuesday, Morsi's office announced 10 new governors. Four of the new names are leading members of the Brotherhood, taking the posts in the southern provinces of Minya and Assiout — two areas with heavy Christian populations — and the Nile Delta provinces of Kafr el-Sheikh and Menoufia, a stronghold of former regime supporters.
In a gesture to Egypt's still powerful military, three of the new governors are retired generals.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said the new governors were chosen based their "good reputation, not party affiliation."
Another significant shakeup came in the National Council for Human Rights, a body that Mubarak created in his final years in response to demands for greater respect for human rights. The council, once headed by former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was touted as a rights watchdog over the government. Other rights groups dismissed it as toothless. However after the revolution, it played an active role in proposing to parliament bills against torture and discrimination against Christians and formed fact-finding missions to investigate killings of anti-military protesters.
The new 27-member council includes at least seven Islamists, including several members of the ultraconservative Salafi movement, which advocates a strict, segregationist interpretation of Islam similar to Saudi Arabia's.
Many Salafis have voiced opposition to international human rights treaties as "Westernized" standards and to many women's rights advocates they feel are un-Islamic. They also oppose equal political rights between Muslims and Christians.
Only two members in the new lineup are known as longtime human rights advocates, said Bahy Eddin Hassan, who heads the Arab Center for Human Rights Studies and is not among those on the council. The lineup includes three women — two of whom are Christians — and a third Christian.
"For the first time, we see a council tasked to defend human rights while its members are opponents to human rights," he said.
One of the two rights activists on the council, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, acknowledged the lack of representatives from established Egyptian rights groups, or from youth or women. But he said the council's leader, former senior judge Hossam el-Gharyani, will be able to strike a balance.
"I am optimistic," Seif al-Islam, a prominent rights lawyer, told The Associated Press. "Egyptians became part of the political equation, and the president and his party are in power based on people's will. This gives us a big space to move and play a role."
The new council was formed by the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Shura Council also reshuffled the High Press Council, a state-body in charge of overseeing media regulations, introducing several Islamist politicians as members.
It was the latest move to reshape the state-run newspapers that under Mubarak were mouthpieces for the regime's fierce anti-Brotherhood campaigns. Last month, the Shoura Council replaced 50 chief editors of state papers, installing Islamists or Brotherhood sympathizers.
In less than three months in office, Morsi has moved to solidify his authority. He removed top military generals who ruled Egypt after last year's uprising and fired the heads of intelligence and the presidential and Republican guard forces.
He named a team of 21 advisers and aides that are mostly Islamist-leaning figures, including only three women and two Christians, despite campaign promises to appoint a Christian and a woman as vice presidents.
"We are in an era that we can describe as 'Ikhwanization' by which the Muslim Brotherhood is imposing control over state institutions," Hassan said, using the Arabic word for the Brotherhood, "Ikhwan."
Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities charged Mubarak's longtime culture minister with corruption and referred him to trial, the latest prosecution of a figure from the ousted regime, the state news agency reported.
During a Justice Ministry investigation, Farouq Hosni, who served as culture minister for most of Mubarak's 29 year-rule, allegedly failed to account for the equivalent of $3 million of his wealth. He is being asked to return the money to the state.
Hosni joins some three dozen stalwarts of the Mubarak regime who face corruption charges. Some of them have been convicted, while others are still on trial.
The Justice Ministry officials also said that Mubarak, his wife and two children were being investigated for new corruption allegations pertaining to the purchase of land in the Nile Delta north of Cairo at a small fraction of its market value. No new charges have brought against any of the four yet.
Mubarak is already serving a life sentence on a conviction of complicity in the killing of hundreds of protesters during last year's uprising against his rule. His two sons, onetime heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa, are on trial for insider trading. The two were questioned last month over their 1993 purchase of a plot of land from a housing association led at the time by Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and longtime friend who unsuccessfully ran for president against Morsi.