Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi increased the influence of his Muslim Brotherhood over government in a Cabinet reshuffle that replaced two ministers involved in crucial talks with the IMF over a $4.8 billion loan.
The changes fell well short of the opposition's demand for a complete overhaul of Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's administration and the installation of a neutral Cabinet to oversee parliamentary elections later this year.
It looked unlikely to help build the political consensus the International Monetary Fund is seeking for reforms needed to secure a loan seen as vital to easing Egypt's deep economic crisis - an unaffordable budget deficit and a plunge in the value of its currency. The government is struggling to seal a deal that would require it to implement austerity measures.
Kandil, a technocrat appointed premier last year, named nine new ministers. They included Amr Darrag, a senior official in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, as planning minister. The outgoing minister, Ashraf al-Arabi, had played a central role in the IMF talks.
Another Brotherhood member, Yehya Hamed, was named investment minister, and Ahmed el-Gezawi, an FJP member, took over agriculture, lifting the movement's share to around a third of the cabinet's 35 portfolios.
Fayyad Abdel Moneim, a specialist in Islamic economics, was appointed as finance minister, replacing al-Morsi al-Sayed Hegazy, another expert on Islamic finance who was appointed in January - the last time Kandil reshuffled the Cabinet.
“The reshuffle is unlikely to signal any real shift in policy, particularly from an economic perspective,” said Hirsh, a London-based economist.
“If anything it deals a blow to demands for political consensus which the government seems to have ignored.”
The changes underscored the polarized state of an Egyptian political scene split between Morsi and his Islamist allies and opposition parties that accuse him and the Brotherhood of trying to dominate the post-Hosni Mubarak order.
Morsi announced on April 20 he would carry out the reshuffle to replace a government widely criticized for failing to get the economy moving nine months into his presidency.
The United States, which gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid each year, has grown more critical of Morsi of late, listing a lack of political inclusivity as a concern.
Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the Freedom and Justice Party, told Al Jazeera's Egyptian news channel the aim of the reshuffle was to “confront the economic crisis and to conclude the agreement with the IMF with new spirit and a new vision, and to confront the energy crises,” a reference to fuel shortages.
The National Salvation Front (NSF), a loose alliance of opposition parties, wants Morsi to install a neutral government and replace the public prosecutor before elections that are expected to get under way in October.
“The changes will only deepen the political crisis and state of polarization and block the way to any possible real national dialogue,” said Hussein Abdel Ghani, an NSF member.
Yasser el-Shimy, Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group, said “They might be getting people who will do a better job but it does not address the political crisis in any meaningful way, and I'm not sure it's meant to."
“They have absolutely no doubt that they will be able to ride this wave of instability,” he said.
The reshuffle left the ministers of interior, defense and foreign affairs unchanged.
Ahmed Suleiman was named as justice minister, replacing Ahmed Mekky, who resigned last month in protest at efforts by Morsi's Islamist allies to purge the judiciary. A former assistant to Mekky, Suleiman has been critical of some of Morsi's toughest opponents in the judiciary.
Sherif Haddara, chairman of the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation, was named as minister of petroleum, responsible for meeting the fuel needs of the cash-strapped state as summer approaches. The state, which subsidizes diesel, cooking gas and other fuels, has been struggling to finance energy imports.