Academics get key posts in caretaker government

Gripped by turmoil in the wake of the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt last week installed an interim government composed mainly of liberal technocrats but also including academics.

The higher education portfolio has gone to Hossam Issa, a law professor who had a high profile in the 18-day protests that forced long-serving president Hosni Mubarak to step down in early 2011.

The new foreign minister is Nabil Fahmy, founding dean of the School of Public Affairs at the American University in Cairo, or AUC.

Hossam Issa, who has a PhD in law from France’s Sorbonne University, has lectured in Egypt and Algeria. He has also been appointed as deputy prime minister for social justice in the new Egyptian government, which will prepare for presidential elections expected early next year.

The army removed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, on 3 July following three days of huge street protests against his one-year-old presidency.

Issa sharply criticised Morsi, who belongs to the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, when the Islamist leader issued a controversial decree in November 2012 expanding his powers and making all his decisions beyond judicial oversight.

“This decree is a misstep as Morsi has struck hard at the root of the state and virtually scrapped the judiciary, taking all authorities in his hands,” Issa said at the time.

The mostly secular opposition often accused Morsi, a former engineering professor, of seeking to tighten the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on power and mismanaging the country’s daily affairs.

A veteran political activist, Issa last year co-founded the liberal Constitution Party, along with Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who was an adjunct law professor at New York University during the 1980s.

After Morsi’s ouster ElBaradei, who inspired the uprisings against both Mubarak and Morsi, has been appointed vice president for international relations. The former director general of the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency won the Nobel peace prize, together with the agency, in 2005.

On 17 July, his first day as minister of higher education, Issa said: “In my new post, I plan to continue the march I began with the March 9 Movement.” The March 9 Movement is an academic group that advocates university independence from government control.

“I’ll endeavour to make these institutions really independent. I also plan to promote scientific research at Egyptian universities, which are on the verge [of collapse] due to lack of attention to scientific research,” he added.

New Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, who is still on the AUC faculty, is also a career diplomat who has been active in the areas of Middle East peace efforts and nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

He is chair of the Middle East Project at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies, based in the Monterey Institute of International Studies, an affiliate of Middlebury College in California.

He has a bachelor of science in physics and mathematics and a masters in management, both from the AUC, and in 2009 he received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the Monterey Institute.

He is the son of a former foreign minister and his diplomatic career has seen him serve as Egypt’s ambassador to Washington and as ambassador to Japan. He led the Egyptian delegation to the Middle East peace process steering committee in 1999 and served for many years as a member of Egypt’s missions to the UN in Geneva and New York.

As foreign minister, Fahmy faces the task of regaining the clout of Egypt’s diplomacy, which has recently suffered regional and international setbacks.