Ibrahim Mehleb’s appointment as prime minister-designate in many ways represents the current local and regional centers of economic power in Egypt — and what is to come.
Mehleb’s resume includes stints on the former ruling National Democratic Party policies committee, state-owned construction companies, the Housing Ministry and various Saudi Arabian construction firms.
At a press conference at the presidential palace Tuesday afternoon, Mehleb, the former housing minister, said he would continue the work of the current government, but played down his ability to make significant progress.
“We need to understand that our resources are limited,” he said in a somewhat avuncular tone. Mehleb falls under the ambiguous category of technocrats, which have dominated most discussions of government. Although most of Egypt’s crises over the past few years have tended to be political in nature, public figures have elevated technocrats, often interpreted as experienced politicians and businessmen. This narrow group of people most often have ties to the NDP.
Mehleb falls under this category. Before serving on the policies committee of the NDP, he gained most of his managerial experience as the head of the state-owned Arab Contractors, the largest construction firm in Egypt. The ring road, Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, and the Supreme Constitutional Court are among its most prominent projects.
He left that position to head the Housing Ministry. Yahia Shawkat, a housing researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told Mada Masr that his tenure there was rather unremarkable.
“He has made himself look like he has been doing a lot, he has visited sites and projects for the Housing Ministry,” Shawkat said, adding that there was a lack of strategies, whether long or short-term, under his leadership.
“He put a lot of effort into boosting the real estate market himself, and the real estate market is on the opposite spectrum of what he should be doing. He continued in the same paradigm of housing commoditization,” he explained.
A former housing minister is a curious choice for a technocrat able to solve Egypt’s economic woes. The answer could lie more in international considerations, considering foreign real estate development and Mehleb’s involvement with land pricing and development.
The Egyptian military is the largest landholder in Egypt, and most recently has signed contracts with Emaar, a Emerati developer. State-owned Al-Ahram has toted a number of plans for the military companies to develop informal areas, likely with Gulf money.
Most public private partnerships involve Gulf companies, a phenomenon set to increase after Gulf aid poured into Egypt after the military ousted former President Mohamed Morsi last summer.
That ouster was brought on by a broad coalition of secular opposition groups, the security services and supporters of the Mubarak regime. That coalition was largely represented in the first iteration of Beblawi’s cabinet, before more reform-minded and liberal figures started to submit their resignations.
Reports said that Mehleb, and the interior and defense ministers were the only members of the Cabinet to know they would all be resigning, rather there simply being limited shuffle as had been discussed for weeks. Other reports note that more progressive supporters of Morsi’s ouster will be replaced under Mehleb’s tutelage.