Upon hearing that Hisham Kandil was appointed prime minister by President Mohammed Morsi, most of Egypt’s political class gushed and said, who? The former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation is a relatively unknown figure in the Cairo political scene and as such, his views are not well-known.
However, his choice has already caused some controversy due to his strong religious beliefs and lack of a strong economic background. Morsi's choice of Kandil indicates he is willing to go against the grain and put great faith in an unknown politician. The choice of Kandil also indicates that Morsi might have an eye on competing with the generals on foreign policy, an area most political commentators believe was part of a deal between Morsi and the military.
Hisham Kandil was a senior bureaucrat in the ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation until he took over as the minister in July 2011. Kandil graduated from the Faculty of Engineering in 1984 and earned a masters from Utah State in 1988 and a PhD from NC State University in 1993. He later joined the National Water Research Center as a professor. From 1999 to 2005, Kandil worked in the ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, taking part in the Nile Basin Initiative.
Kandil does fit most of the criteria which Morsi spelled out for the post of Prime Minister. Kandil sports a beard and is reported to be an Islamist, but also has no ties to Islamist groups. Also, Kandil is young, still in his 40s. Kandil also traveled with Morsi on July 15 to an African Union summit in Ethiopia. Morsi has stated that improving Egypt’s relationship with the Nile Basin countries is one of his priorities.
There has already been both supporters and critics for Morsi's selection. Most groups are relatively pleased that Morsi has chosen a candidate who is relatively young and not affiliated with any specific group. However, some critics, such as the Wafd party, have said Morsi promised to nominate a non-Islamist PM.
The most stinging criticism has come from those wondering why Morsi chose a candidate without a strong economic background. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party gave three criteria given for the future PM, someone under 60, who does not belong to a political group, and should have a solid background in economics. This led many to believe that Morsi would choose former central bank chief Mahmoud Aboul-Eyoun or former minister Hazem al-Beblawi, despite their age. The choice of Kandil was unexpected and the economy of Egypt is the biggest concern in Egypt, highlighted by a recent Gallup poll, which indicated that the number one demand of nearly every group, irrespective of political affiliation, was resolving the current economic crisis.
In his first press conference, Kandil announced that his government will be technocratic and that there would be a balance of political factions within the cabinet. Kandil also said that he would focus on Morsi’s renaissance program. What is clear is that Kandil has to focus on fixing the economy. His worldliness, including time spent in the U.S. and focus on Nile Basin issues, are good indicators that Kandil will not be a provincial prime minister. In that vein, the choice of Kandil also indicates that Morsi is serious about reviving Egypt’s links with the Nile Basin countries in Africa and that Morsi will not allow the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to dictate all of Egypt’s foreign policy positions. Starting with something of a clean slate means that Kandil will have more leeway in his work as prime minister. However, it remains to be seen how Kandil will work within a yet-to-be-announced cabinet and if he and Morsi will see eye to eye on solving the economic crisis facing Egypt.