On 24 February, the Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi announced the resignation of the entire cabinet with immediate effect.
The announcement followed a wave of strikes in the industrial cities, blackouts, acute shortages in cooking gas and growing public dissatisfaction with the government.
Despite the government’s unpopularity, many were surprised at the announcements, including, it seems, some of the cabinet ministers.
The surprise resignation may serve two purposes.
First it is an attempt to appease popular unrest. The regime, backed heavily by the military, is in a crucial phase leading up to presidential elections, and a rebirth of the enormous street demonstrations of 2013 would scotch their hopes of a smooth transition.
And strikes, including by rubbish collectors and public sector workers in key industries, have sharply increased; these have the potential to turn generalised anger into a direct confrontation with the regime.
The other potential reason for the resignation has to do with Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, chief of the armed forces and the man who ordered last year's coup against the Muslim brotherhood.
Al-Sisi is expected to announce his candidacy for president. However, current rules mean he is unable to do so until resigning his position as Defence Minister. The mass resignation may be a way of giving cover to his manoeuvre. If he is absent from a new cabinet, this will amount to a virtual confirmation that he will run for president.
The day after the resignation, former Housing Minister Ibrahim Mahlab told the press that he had been asked by the current president to become prime minister and to form a new government, and that had accepted the new role.
Mahlab was formerly a senior figure in the National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak, as well as the chief of one the Middle East’s biggest construction firms, Arab Contractors Company. Whereas the former Prime Minister Beblawi was seen by many in the military and political establishment to be weak and indecisive, Mahlab is considered to be more reliable. Indeed, when informing the press of the new government, he stressed his intention to stop strikes and “crush terrorism in all corners of the country”.
As the military-backed government moves to consolidate, the role of the resurgent, powerful independent union movement in Egypt will be crucial.