Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Dr. Hisham Mohamed Qandil, who held the post of Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources in the Essam Sharaf and Kamal el-Ganzouri governments would never have imagined that the first democratically elected Egyptian president in the post-revolutionary period would appoint him as prime minister and charge him with forming a government.
Qandil distinguished himself as the first bearded Egyptian minister in the post-revolutionary period, whilst he is now the first bearded Egyptian prime minister to serve under the first bearded – and democratically elected – Egyptian president. This is a state of affairs that has raised questions over whether Qandil is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood organization. Qandil has asserted that he has never belonged to any political party, either before or after the Egyptian revolution, whilst a spokesman for Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi described the new prime minister as an “independent patriot.”
Qandil is a relatively low-key figure, and information about his life is scarce. He speaks in a quiet voice and has shunned the media spotlight during his time as Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources. Mursi’s selection of Qandil as his prime minister has served as something of a surprise in Egypt, as many believed that the Egyptian president would appoint a more prominent or well-known figure.
The new Egyptian prime minister was born in 1962 and graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University in 1984. He obtained his Master’s degree from Utah State University in 1988 and his PhD from the North Caroline State University in 1993.
Qandil was also awarded the Egyptian Order of the Republic – Second Class in 1995.
He served as chief of staff for former Irrigation Minister Mahmoud Abou Zeid between 1999 and 2005. Following this, he served as a member of the Nile Council of Ministers of the Nile Basin Initiative and later as president of the African Ministers Council on Water. The Nile Basin Initiative is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to equitable and sustainable management and development of the shared water resources of the Nile Basin.
Qandil later worked as an engineer at the African Development Bank [AfDB] in Tunisia, eventually becoming chief water resources engineer at AfDB. He was in charge of developing AfDB water resources and irrigation projects in a number of African countries, including Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and others.
He also served as an observer of the joint Egyptian – Sudanese Nile Water Authority.
On 15 July, Qandil accompanied President Mursi to the African Union [AU] summit in Ethiopia. This trip sought to strengthen Cairo’s ties with its African neighbors after years of neglect under former president Mubarak. Mursi previously stated that improving Egypt’s relations with the Nile Basin countries is one of his priorities, and Qandil’s appointment as Egyptian prime minister will serve in this regard due to his strong ties with the Nile Basin Initiative.
Qandil was not considered a prominent figure on the Egyptian political scene prior to the 25 January revolution. Following this, he was appointed Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources in successive post-revolutionary governments before being Mursi’s surprise choice for prime minister. Qandil is not a member of any political party and has denied being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, stressing his moderate credentials.
During his tenure as Minister of Irrigation, Qandil hired 8,000 temporary workers from different sectors. He also promoted approximately 5,700 ministry employees, granting them a permanent contract.
Qandil has stated that he will seek to form a technocratic government, stressing that “competence” will be the sole criterion for selecting ministers. Speaking at a press conference following his nomination as prime minister, Qandil said “we must exert all efforts to achieve the goals of the revolution.” He also called on “all political forces and the people of Egypt to support us in this difficult mission”, highlighting the economic, social and environmental challenges that lie ahead.