CAIRO — Egypt's president on Tuesday designated a young, independent U.S.-educated irrigation minister as the new prime minister to form a government that will be tasked with turning the country's economy and security around after 17 months of instability and protests.
The designation of Hesham Kandil comes nearly a month after President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was sworn in as Egypt's first freely elected civilian president — a reflection of the difficulties he has had in putting together an administration.
The military, which took power after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year, still holds overriding control over much of Egypt's politics, leaving it unclear what the new prime minister's powers will be.
In question is whether Kandil and Morsi will be able to name the heads of key ministries overseeing foreign relations, state budgets and security forces, where there is deep resistance to the Brotherhood president. Already, the military has said the government will not be able to appoint a defense minister.
In addition to the power-sharing constraints, Emad Gad of the liberal Social Democratic Party said many of the names that had been floated around for prime minister did not want the job because they felt the post under Morsi would be nothing more than a vehicle to execute his Muslim Brotherhood's program, known as "the Renaissance project," aimed at overhauling the government and economy.
Kandil, who is in his 40s, will have to consult with the president before naming ministers.
Morsi had promised to pick someone from outside the Brotherhood to lead a unity government that would include other political factions. Kandil does not have any affiliation to Islamist groups or any political parties, state TV said. Kandil is believed to be religious on a personal level, wearing a light beard and interspersing his past comments to the press with religious references.
"The appointment of a patriotic, independent figure was studied and discussed in order to select a person capable of managing the current situation efficiently and effectively," said Morsi's spokesman, Yasser Ali.
Gad said he believes the Brotherhood's executive council had a lot of say in Kandil's selection.
"They brought in someone who is not from the Brotherhood, but whose ideology is similar," he said. "The other names presented (for the post of prime minister) would not have accepted the orders given to them."
Gad said his Social Democratic Party will not take part in the new government because its failures and successes should be the Brotherhood's alone to shoulder.
"They have their own Renaissance project that they want to execute. We are not convinced of their program so we will not take part in it," Gad said.
The spokesman for the ultraconservative Islamic Al-Nour Party said Kandil's selection came as a surprise because his name was not among the candidates being suggested as far as he knew, but added that he is an acceptable choice for the job.
"He has many issues to deal with, starting with lawlessness," Yousseri Hamad said.
Hamad said that Al-Nour Party has not been approached to fill any Cabinet positions, but that they would consider any approaches.
Kandil is the minister of water resources and irrigation in the outgoing, military-appointed government. He earned his masters and doctorate at the University of North Carolina and later worked at the African Development Bank, focusing on Nile Basin countries. He was also part of an observer mission for Egypt in talks with Sudan on Nile water issues.
He was brought into the government after Mubarak's fall. His young age stands in stark contrast to current Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, who is a Mubarak-era prime minister who served from 1996 to 1999 and was reappointed to the post in late 2011. The choice of el-Ganzouri deepened the anger of protesters in November who were already seething over the military's perceived reluctance to dismantle the legacy of the ousted president's 29-year rule.
An example of the pull-and-tug between the Islamists and the current Cabinet appeared after Egypt's foreign currency reserves declined by as much as $21 billion since the January, 2011 uprising. Cairo asked the International Monetary Fund for a $3.2 billion aid package, the disbursement of which hinges on political consensus in Cairo. The Brotherhood has since been at odds with the Cabinet's spending and repaying scheme for the loan, which has stalled its approval.
Since Morsi's win, the Brotherhood has also been squeezed by the military's grip on authority. Just before he took office, the military dissolved parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood and other Islamists, and the generals took over legislative powers as well as other authorities.
Additional reporting by Sarah El Deeb