Outgoing Housing Minister Ibrahim Mehleb had been one of the more inconspicuous characters in the interim government. But he was propelled into the spotlight on Monday shortly after incumbent Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi announced the Cabinet’s resignation.
A former member of the National Democratic Party’s policies committee, Mehleb may be tipped to become Egypt’s next prime minister, according to media reports.
His affiliation with the former ruling party of deposed President Hosni Mubarak made him one of the controversial faces of the military-backed interim government appointed last July.
The NDP was dissolved by court order two months after the 18 day uprising that led to Mubarak’s removal in 2011.
In June 2010, Mehleb was one of 44 Shura Council members directly appointed by Mubarak. The Constitution at that time stipulated that two-thirds of the council be elected and one-third appointed by presidential decree.
The NDP won a sweeping majority in the controversial 2010 parliamentary elections, which took place months before the outbreak of the uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood won only a handful of seats that year, a stark drop from the more significant bloc the group had formed in the prior parliament. The elections were marred by accusations of flagrant violations and vote rigging.
Many members of other opposition parties who won a seat in the 2010 parliament resigned in protest of the reported violations.
It was a key factor in the momentum that built up and eventually led to the mass protests in January.
Born in 1949, Mehleb is a civil engineer and has served as the CEO and chairman of the board of the mammoth state-owned construction company, Arab Contractors, since 2001.
He studied civil engineering at Cairo University and joined Arab Contractors right after graduating in 1972, where he oversaw the construction of bridges, tunnels, sports facilities and power plants, as well as the maintenance and restoration of antiquities.
After the army's ouster of deposed President Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against him, Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have rallied to support the interim government. The three have cumulatively pledged US$12 billion in financial support to Egypt, much of which is being channeled to stimulus packages intended to prop up an ailing economy. Much of the stimulus package is going into financing infrastructure projects, including major roadways and bridges.
Mehleb sits on the board of Cairo University’s Civil Engineering Research and Studies Center as well as the boards of the Housing and Building Research Center and Suez Canal Bank. He is also deputy board director of the Association of Enterprises for Environmental Conservation.
During a visit to Tahrir Square on the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising, Mehleb said that “Egyptians are impressing the world by creating a new history for revolutions … and will not be frightened by terrorist acts.”
Most who went to Tahrir Square that day took part in festivities and held up posters of Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with many calling on him to run for president.
In other areas of the capital and around the country, violence broke out on the anniversary as security forces dispersed protests by both revolutionary groups in some areas and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in others.
Mehleb’s potential nomination as Egypt's next prime minister has already stirred controversy.
Ahmed Fawzy, a leading member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, told the privately-owned Al-Shorouk newspaper that the choice of Mehleb is not well studied, and represents “a return to the nature of Mubarak-era governance.”
The coming period will see an intensified marginalization of partisanship and anyone active in party politics, Fawzy said, adding that Egypt’s future would rely on independents running in elections.
On January 27, Ziad Bahaa Eddin, also a member of the Social Democratic Party, resigned from his post as deputy prime minister and minister of international cooperation in Beblawi’s Cabinet.
In a statement published on his official Facebook page, Bahaa Eddin said, “My role in the coming period would be more consistent and effective in the political, partisan and legal sphere.”
He added that an “essential phase in the roadmap has almost ended,” referring to the passing of the new Constitution by a sweeping majority in the mid-January referendum.
Mehleb recently announced the formation of a committee that would look into solving disputes between the ministry and investors in a bid to restore confidence and encourage investments, according to state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA).
Speaking at the annual CityScape real estate forum, the housing minister said that the committee would review complaints from investors regarding delays in construction licensing or connecting utilities to certain areas, but would not look into legal disputes that are pending in courts.
The “state of confusion regarding real estate investments has ended despite all the obstacles and concerns surrounding the current policies, which look to strike a balance between investors’ rights and those of the state,” Mehleb claimed.
He added that land would no longer be allocated via direct contracts, but through public auctions.
The Mubarak regime was criticized for favoring its close clique of businessmen by giving them favorable land deals or allocating land to their real estate development companies at undervalued prices.