Securing a Cabinet position is still the dream of millions of Egyptians, even if they argue to the contrary. Egyptian ministers rarely come from the government, whose various entities constitute seven million employees (roughly one-third of Egypt’s labor force). Yet the Egyptian state does not want to acknowledge that the economically empowered government personnel are often replete with internal defects. Meanwhile, the rumors concerning potential ministerial candidates that frequently spread on the eve of any Cabinet reshuffle have nothing to do with any actual scanning of candidates; rather, they are meant to sustain many ambitious executives’ dream of becoming ministers.
The government in Egypt has a very clear role (handling the business of day-to-day governing), while the Egyptian state that is shaped by its security apparatus is responsible for crafting strategic ruling policies that the government must follow unquestioningly. In Egypt, ministers are not appointed based on their forward-thinking ability or their achievements; what matters is who is endorsed by the state and is willing to blindly abide by its strategy. One of the defects of this mechanism is that it can result in assigning qualified ministers to head ministries with which they are not familiar.
Egyptians who desire to be ministers should not be bothered with advancing their competence, as that plays a very minimal role in achieving ministerial status. Many qualified ministerial candidates are quite competent, but lack the critical quality of having strong ties to the state. In fact, the selection of appointees to certain specific ministries is often related to the political structure and environment and is based on who can best serve the state’s interests at a particular point in time, which leads to favoring a few potential candidates over others.
Egyptians in general agree that the quality of ministers has been declining from one generation to the next. A few decades ago, Egyptian ministers were known to be high caliber intellectuals with strong personalities, capable of making tough decisions. These qualities have diminished gradually over time. We have reached a point where many of our ministers are only good at creating and spreading propaganda about their false achievements and offering justifications for many undelivered projects.
The present mechanism could be easily improved if, instead of choosing candidates based primarily on their connections, potential ministers were able to set out their visions before Parliament for endorsement.
The temptation of the ministerial position in Egypt, and its frequent association with unmet tasks, has led to a proclivity among former ministers to justify their failure to deliver by claiming that the ineffectiveness of the Egyptian state had prevented them from implementing their perfect ideas — as if they had not been aware of these issues prior to accepting their noble assignments.
Egyptian entrepreneurs who truly want to use their extensive knowledge in the service of their country should give themselves a long break; the state does not need their sincerity or their substance, nor is it even willing to listen to their ideas from afar. Many Egyptian ministers are currently playing the role of facilitator, accepting to be a part of the dysfunctional governing system and willing to accept a position that could entail their being blamed for a policy that they did not design.
The present ministerial appointment mechanism often brings dissatisfaction to the ruler and to the majority of Egyptian citizens. It could be easily improved if replaced by a different and better functioning one. Instead of the current mechanism based primarily on ministerial candidates’ connections, we should enable potential candidates to set out their visions before the Egyptian Parliament for endorsement. Our country would benefit from this kind of fair competition, which would yield a large pool of potential ministerial candidates who would be willing to work constantly on advancing their competence, thereby generating many good ideas.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.