Egypt Pick For Premier Bodes Few Changes

CAIRO -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's appointment of a veteran deputy prime minister to form a new cabinet may give fresh impetus to economic reforms but heralds no radical policy changes, diplomats said Wednesday.

They said Mubarak's choice of Kamal Ganzouri, planning minister since 1986 and deputy to dismissed premier Atef Sedki for eight years, pushed the technocrat into the limelight to oversee Egypt's economic liberalizations.

"He may be slightly more serious on the reforms, but I don't think we're going to see any quantum changes," one Western diplomat said.

Ganzouri, 62, holds a PhD in economics from the United States and has often negotiated with the International Monetary Fund which, with the World Bank, helped map out Egypt's economic reforms. His appointment follows parliamentary elections last month in which Mubarak's National Democratic Party won an overwhelming majority in polls marred by violence and vote-rigging.

"This looks like a cosmetic change aimed at economic reform and offsetting the results of the election, which did not give the best image possible," the diplomat added.

Analysts say the role of prime minister in Egypt is mainly an economic portfolio, coordinating the various ministries of finance, trade, industry and international cooperation.

Mubarak, who keeps tight control over the key ministerial posts at the Defense, Information, Foreign and Interior Ministries, suggested Tuesday that a wide-scale reshuffle was unlikely.

The new cabinet was due to be announced later Wednesday.

"Who stays, who goes -- that will give a better indication of the new direction," said another diplomat. "Ganzouri's appointment in itself doesn't mean a kick start to reforms -- in fact it couldn't be less radical."

Mubarak on Tuesday praised the outgoing premier for overseeing economic and social changes during what he said were "Egypt's most difficult stages."