Egypt’s new military-installed prime minister said Sunday that security was his top priority, with police and soldiers facing near daily attacks since the July ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
In his first address to the nation, Ibrahim Mahlab, a former member of the party of toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, said Egypt faced “challenges that are like mountains”, but vowed to confront them with transparency and firmness.
On Saturday, Mahlab unveiled a new 31-member cabinet that retained Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as defence minister, after the previous government made a surprise exit amid mounting criticism over the battered economy and major industrial strikes.
“The first priority is to impose security, counter terrorism firmly and legally, and restore stability by preserving human rights and democracy,” Mahlab said in a televised speech.
“I know that the responsibility is big, that the challenges are bigger. But together, we will face all crises and steer the nation’s ship to the shore of security.”
Since Morsi’s overthrow, Islamist militants have launched scores of deadly assaults on security forces and bombed a tour bus in what was seen as an attack on one of Egypt’s top revenue generators.
Most of the attacks have been claimed by an Al-Qaeda-inspired group based in the restive Sinai Peninsula, but the government has blamed them on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and waged a months-long crackdown on his supporters.
Amnesty International says more than 1,400 people, mostly Morsi supporters, have been killed in street clashes since the military overthrew him in July.
The previous government, also installed by the military after Morsi’s ouster, had become increasingly unpopular despite announcing two economic stimulus packages aimed at kick-starting the economy with funds provided by friendly Gulf Arab states.
Analyst Eman Ragab of the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies said that focusing on security alone could lead to “failure” for the new government.
“Security challenges must be confronted with political and economic policies that curb anger on the street, not only by security policies,” she told AFP.
The new premier also urged the country’s industrial workers to stop protesting.
“I urge you to end any sit-ins, strikes and protests. Let’s begin rebuilding the nation,” said Mahlab, a former state-sector construction boss.
Egypt’s industrial sector has been hard hit by labour unrest since Mubarak’s overthrow in 2011, adding to the sense of crisis in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Mahlab’s government is tasked with organising a presidential election for this spring, which is widely expected to bring army chief Sisi to power a little over three years after Mubarak was toppled by one of the region’s first democratic uprisings.
Sisi, who has yet to announce his candidacy, emerged as the nation’s most popular political figure after he removed Morsi from power following massive street protests against the divisive year-long rule of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.