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Egypt minister ‘to form new cabinet’

File photo of Ibrahim Mahlab (1 July 2010)Ibrahim Mahlab was a senior official in the party of ousted President Hosni Mubarak

Egypt’s president has asked outgoing housing minister Ibrahim Mahlab to form a new government, state media report, a day after the interim cabinet quit.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi did not give a clear reason for his government’s resignation on Monday.

The surprise announcement came amid a series of public sector strikes and an acute shortage of cooking gas.

Mr Beblawi was appointed in July after the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi following mass protests.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed and thousands of others detained in a crackdown by the security forces on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement to which Mr Morsi belongs.

Militants based in the Sinai peninsula have meanwhile stepped up attacks on government, police and military personnel, killing hundreds.

Unity ‘indispensable’

Before becoming housing minister, Ibrahim Mahlab was chairman of Arab Contractors, one of the biggest construction companies in the Middle East.

He was a senior official in ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and was appointed to the now-disbanded upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, in 2010.

Textile workers demand higher wages during a strike in Mahalla al-Qubra in Egypt (15 February 2014)There has been a sharp rise in strikes by workers at vital state facilities and key industries

On Tuesday, Mr Mahlab told the state-run newspaper al-Akhbar that he would focus on finding ways to stop strikes, boost employment and production, and restore calm to the country.

“Restoration of security and national unity of the Egyptian people are indispensable to move forward towards improving the living conditions of Egyptian families,” he said.

Sources told the paper they expected the new government to be sworn on Saturday.

The departing government is the fifth since the 2011 uprising which led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Beblawi announced his cabinet’s resignation on Monday during a 15-minute speech on live television, in which he said Egypt was facing “huge dangers”.

“The cabinet has over the past six or seven months shouldered a very difficult responsibility… in most cases the results were good,” he said.

T-shirt showing Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (22 February 2014)Army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is expected to announce that he will run for president

“This is neither the time for demands by public workers nor the time for personal interests, but the time for us to put our country’s interests above all others.”

Mr Beblawi has been criticised in local media for his perceived indecisiveness and inability to deal with the country’s economic woes.

The cabinet made its decision to submit its resignation to interim President Adly Mansour after a 30-minute meeting.

The meeting was attended by Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, defence minister and first deputy prime minister.

He is widely expected to announce soon that he will step down from both posts and run for president.

According to the new constitution approved in January, an election must take place by mid-April.

Correspondents say Field Marshal Sisi would be likely to win, given his popularity and the lack of any serious rivals.

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