CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's president on Tuesday appointed a young, independent U.S.-educated Cabinet minister as the new premier, assigned to turn the nation's economy and internal security around after 17 months of instability and protests.
The designation of Hesham Kandil comes nearly a month after President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was sworn in as Egypt's first freely elected civilian president. The time it took just to select a prime minister reflects the difficulties Morsi has had in putting together an administration.
"Patience is required," Kandil said in a short televised address after his appointment was announced, following a meeting with Morsi on Tuesday. Delivering what he said was a joint message, Kandil called for unity in the face of serious challenges.
The military, which took power after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year, still holds the final say over much of Egypt's governing, leaving it unclear what the new prime minister's powers will be.
Already the military has said that it, not the civilian government, appoints the defense minister.
Kandil, an engineer in his 40s, will have to consult with the president before naming the other Cabinet ministers.
Morsi had promised to pick someone from outside the Brotherhood to lead a unity government that would include other political factions. Kandil does not have any affiliation with Islamist groups or political parties, state TV said.
Kandil is believed to be religious on a personal level, wearing a light beard and interspersing his past comments to the news media with religious references.
Emad Gad of the liberal Social Democratic Party said many of the well-known figures suggested for prime minister did not want the job because they felt it would be nothing more than a vehicle to execute Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood's program, known as "the Renaissance project," aimed at overhauling the government and economy.
Gad said he believes the Brotherhood's executive council had considerable say in Kandil's selection.
"They brought in someone who is not from the Brotherhood, but whose ideology is similar," he said.
The opposition April 6 movement, which helped engineer last year's uprising, said people are confused about why Kandil was selected, but that it is too early to pass judgment on him.
Morsi's spokesman, Yasser Ali, said the "the appointment of a patriotic, independent figure was studied and discussed."
The spokesman for the ultraconservative Islamic Al-Nour Party said Kandil's selection came as a surprise, but he is an acceptable choice.
"He has many issues to deal with, starting with lawlessness," Yousseri Hamad said. Al-Nour indicated it would consider joining the new government if asked.
Kandil is the minister of water resources and irrigation in the outgoing military-appointed government. He earned his masters and doctorate degrees at the University of North Carolina and worked at the African Development Bank, focusing on Nile Basin countries. He was part of an observer mission for Egypt in talks with Sudan on Nile River water issues.
He was brought into the government after Mubarak's fall, serving under Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, a Mubarak-era prime minister reappointed to the post by the military in late 2011.
Differences between the Brotherhood, which held the most seats in parliament before the legislature was dissolved last month, and the outgoing Cabinet has so far cost Egypt a vital inflow of financial assistance.
Because of the turmoil in the country, which dried up tourism and foreign investments, Egypt's foreign currency reserves dropped by more than one-half since the popular uprising. Cairo asked the International Monetary Fund for a $3.2 billion aid package. The IMF insists on political consensus in Cairo before approving the loan.
The Brotherhood has been at odds with the Cabinet's spending and repaying scheme for the loan, and that has stalled its approval.
provoked A modest sell-off in Egyptian markets followed news of Kandil's appointment.
The London-based Capital Economics consulting firm said investors were hoping the new prime minister would come from an economics background "so that much-needed reforms are implemented and the economy can be put back on track."
The main problem is that even if Kandil were a leading economic figure, he would still have little control over policy. The powers of the president himself, as well as his Cabinet, are unclear,.
Just before Morsi took office, the military dissolved parliament and took over legislative powers.
Although Morsi's spokesman on Tuesday reiterated support for a unity government, some in the opposition want no part in it.
Gad said his Social Democratic Party, which won just a handful of seats in parliament, will not join the new government because its failures and successes should be the Brotherhood's alone to shoulder.
"They have their own Renaissance project that they want to execute. We are not convinced of their program, so we will not take part in it," Gad said.
Additional reporting by Sarah El Deeb.