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Egypt's Brotherhood put in key posts

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2012 7:12 p.m. MDT

Also, the process of bringing in a longtime leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi, to head a ruling system that for decades shunned the group seems to have caused confusion at times.

This week, Israel said Morsi wrote back to Israeli President Shimon Peres, who had sent the Egyptian president a letter wishing him well on the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The president's office denied sending any reply. The letter was a potential embarrassment since the Muslim Brotherhood has long been hostile to Israel and has said its members in government will have no contact with it — though they have promised to preserve the two countries' landmark 1979 peace treaty.

The letter, made public in Israel, was sent by the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and sent to Peres by fax and by courier. It is on the mission's stationary, not the presidency's, though it is written in the name of Morsi.

The confusion may have been from a protocol mix-up.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official and a source close to the presidency told The Associated Press that Morsi has no intention to communicate directly with the Israelis and that he mandated the Foreign Ministry to take over routine contacts with the Jewish state. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

In the new Cabinet, Brotherhood members were given the key ministerial posts of information, higher education, housing and labor. A fifth Brotherhood member was named minister of state for youth.

The information ministry gives the Brotherhood control over the state media, a powerful tool in influencing public opinion. The media had long been mouthpieces for denunciations of the long-banned Brotherhood, and Islamists have criticized the media in turn as lax in safeguarding against Western cultural inroads.

The higher education portfolio gives the Brotherhood control over the country's universities, a traditional recruitment ground for the fundamentalist group. The Youth portfolio could give it an even wider area for recruitment and religious indoctrination.

The labor portfolio allows the Brotherhood access to labor unions, traditionally the domain of leftist and liberal groups, in which the group has been seeking to gain a foothold. Housing gives the group a key service sector that millions of poor Egyptians look to for construction of lower-cost housing.

The choices of the five ministries may have been made with an eye on the upcoming parliamentary election expected before the end of the year. The Brotherhood dominated the first post-Mubarak legislature, seated in early 2012, but the military generals dissolved it in June following a court ruling that a third of its members were illegally elected.

But Morsi and Kandil reportedly struggled to bring others into the government. Media reports have spoken of many first-choice candidates for the Cabinet from among non-Islamist groups turning down offers for a place in the Cabinet. Egypt expert Michael W. Hannah of New York's Century Foundation attributed the rejections to the growing lack of trust in Morsi and his Brotherhood.

"Their actions don't match their words," he said. "There is a fundamental lack of trust in them along with the Brotherhood's institutional self-promotion."

Samer Shehata of Washington's Georgetown University explains the lack of diversity and inclusion in the Cabinet as partially the outcome of the uncertainty of the powers the new government will have and the weakness of Morsi's own authority compared to the military's.

"Morsi does seem to be in a very difficult dilemma ... he has been handed a bad set of cards," he said.

The only two women in his lineup are leftovers from outgoing prime minister Kamal el-Ganzouri's government — Social Affairs Minister Nagwa Khalil and Scientific Research Minister Nadia Iskandar Zakhari, the only representative of Egypt's Christian minority in the Cabinet. The relative low level of the ministries mirrored the symbolic representation women and Christians had for decades of Mubarak governments.

"We wanted to see a woman in charge of a powerful ministry like education or health," said women's rights activist Dalia Abdel-Hamid.

Morsi has said that women and Christians would be named to his presidential team, possibly including a vice president post. The only team member named thus far is el-Ganzouri, who is in his late 70s and served for years as Mubarak's prime minister, and was appointed as an adviser to Morsi.

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