Egypt’s interim government resigned today, surprising observers and leaving a political void ahead of presidential elections scheduled for April.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi is expected continue to serve in his post until a successor is named. Interim president Adly Mansour appointed Beblawi in July following the military-backed ouster of Mohamed Morsi.
In his televised resignation speech, Beblawi downplayed expectations of the government. “Reform cannot take place through the government alone,” he said.
He ended his speech by paraphrasing President John F. Kennedy: “It is time we all sacrificed for the good of the country. Rather than asking what has Egypt given us, we should instead be asking what we have done for Egypt.”
Beblawi did not give a reason for his government’s resignation.
Yehia Hussein, a member of the Islamist party Al-Watan, told VICE News that the government resigned to serve the ambitions of Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s army chief and defense minister. “All of them have resigned in order to allow him to run for the presidency,” he said.
After three years of turmoil and political transition, the public’s patience for political leaders and governments is running low.
“They had to go,” said Hassan Alam, an engineer. “They achieved nothing.”
Observers speculated that the government’s resignation would provide an opening for Sisi to announce his candidacy. To do so, Sisi will himself have to resign from the military and the government.
“He essentially has to run,” said Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. “He’s fanned the flames of excitement [for his candidacy] over the past few months. It’s too late for him to do otherwise.”
Sisi will face little competition once he announces his candidacy, and is widely expected to win.
“I pray to God he will run,” said Manal el-Dezheedy, a middle school teacher. “He will restore stability and peace in Egypt.”
Not everyone supports Sisi, however, or thinks he is the best man for the job. His election would cement the Egyptian military’s political power.
“I like him as a military man,” said Alam, “but he is not a politician.”
The new government will face unprecedented economic and energy challenges, ongoing worker strikes, impending fuel shortages, and a widening social divide.
Egypt’s unemployment rate has continued to rise, with young people bearing most of the burden. Job seekers between the ages of 15 and 29 account for 77 percent of the country's unemployed, according to the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies.
Ashraf Khalil, the author of Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution, said that Egyptians “want the country to move forward, whatever this new phase is.” At the moment, there’s no real alternative to the military. “The resignation of the prime minister is just adding to the paralysis.”
In Egypt, all eyes are on Sisi.