Egypt names a new premier ahead of key vote

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Photo - In this Nov. 24, 2013 photo, Ibrahim Mehlib, center, tours a government housing project in Ismailiya, Egypt. Egypt's interim president has chosen as prime minister a construction magnate from the era of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Adly Mansour on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 named Mehlib, who had for more than a decade led Egypt's biggest construction company, Arab Contractors, to replace Hazem el-Beblawi, who resigned on Monday.(AP Photo/Khaled Kandil)
In this Nov. 24, 2013 photo, Ibrahim Mehlib, center, tours a government housing project in Ismailiya, Egypt. Egypt's interim president has chosen as prime minister a construction magnate from the era of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Adly Mansour on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 named Mehlib, who had for more than a decade led Egypt's biggest construction company, Arab Contractors, to replace Hazem el-Beblawi, who resigned on Monday.(AP Photo/Khaled Kandil)
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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's interim president chose the outgoing housing minister, a construction magnate from the era of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, as his new prime minister on Tuesday, some two months ahead of key presidential elections.

Adly Mansour named the 65-year-old Ibrahim Mehlib, who had for more than a decade led Egypt's biggest construction company, Arab Contractors, to replace veteran economist Hazem el-Beblawi, who resigned on Monday.

The swift replacement came after a spike in workers' strikes across the country and the government's failure to deliver on promises to increase public sector wages.

Since Mubarak's ouster in a 2011 uprising, persistent turmoil has sapped investment and tourism, draining the country of its main sources of foreign currency. The military's removal of Mubarak's successor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer, and the subsequent street violence has deepened the country's economic woes.

While the anti-Islamist oil-rich Gulf countries have poured in billions of dollars in grants and loans to boost the Egyptian economy, tens of thousands of textile workers, doctors, pharmacists and even policemen have gone on strike. Many fear unrest ahead of the upcoming presidential elections.

Installing a new government, weeks ahead of the vote, appeared to be paving the way for outgoing Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the army's overthrow of Morsi, to run for the presidency. A government official says el-Sissi will be part of the new cabinet, despite heated speculations.

El-Sissi must leave the military and take off his uniform if he is to run for president. A cult of personality has grown around him and most observers expect he would sweep the vote if he runs.

Minutes after the official announcement was made at the presidency, Mehlib told reporters that his cabinet members will be "holy warriors" in the service of Egyptians. He says he will form his cabinet within three days.

He said that his top priority is to improve Egyptians' living standards, combat terrorism and restore security in order to attract investment and boost the economy. This he said would pave the way for presidential elections.

"God willing, the presidential elections will pass and will take place in proper conditions of safety, security, transparency," he said, adding, "the priority is to work day and night ... anyone in the cabinet will be a holy warrior to achieve the goals of the people."

Born in 1949, Mehlib is a graduate of Cairo University's school of engineering. He rose through the ranks of Arab Contractors over several decades becoming its top manager for 11 years before resigning in 2012.

Mubarak appointed him to the upper house of parliament, a toothless consultative body called the Shura Council, in 2010. He was also a member of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, disbanded after the 2011 revolt.

The new cabinet comes as Morsi supporters and Brotherhood members face mass trials and imprisonment.

Most recently, courts sentenced 220 mostly Islamist Morsi supporters to up to seven years imprisonment for instigating violence and holding protests without a permit.

The three Alexandria courts issued verdicts in separate cases on Tuesday, all related to demonstrations held to protest Morsi's removal last summer.

Former Islamist lawmaker Sobhi Saleh was among 134 who were sentenced to three years prison and fined nearly $7,000 each for inciting violence and holding protests in August. The month was Egypt's bloodiest in decades as security forces unleashed a heavy crackdown on protest camps that hundreds dead.

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