Egypt's Morsi says to reshuffle cabinet 'soon'

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi will "soon" announce a cabinet reshuffle, he said in an interview to air on Saturday, but it is unlikely to meet opposition demands for an overhaul of the government.

Morsi, under strong pressure from his opposition to sack Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, said: "There will be ministerial changes soon and they will affect several ministries," the official MENA news agency reported.

It quoted excerpts of an interview Morsi gave to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel that will air at 1805 GMT.

Morsi denied the reshuffle was decided under pressure from the opposition. "The goal is to achieve general welfare on the ground, in light of the changes we see," MENA quoted him as saying.

A senior presidential aide earlier said Morsi could announce the changes by the end of the week, which in Egypt will be on Thursday.

"There will be six to eight ministers, and wide-ranging changes among (provincial) governors," he said.

"The ministries that will be affected include some important ones," he added. "I can't mention which ones because, as you know, this is a sensitive matter."

Morsi has repeatedly declared his confidence in Qandil, whose sacking is demanded by a coalition of opposition groups as a condition for dropping a boycott of parliamentary elections, possibly in the autumn.

"We will comment when we see the changes, there are too many variables," said Ahmed Kamel, the spokesman for the opposition Congress Party led by former Arab League chief and presidential candidate Amr Mussa.

"But we have clearly stated that our vision is that what Egypt needs is a national unity government that can restore confidence," he added. "And ministries related to the (parliamentary election) must be impartial."

The opposition's protracted deadlock with Morsi has delayed a much needed $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Morsi insists it is up to the next parliament to form a new government.

But even members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement have been seeking a change in government, said Shadi Hamid, an expert on the Islamist movement and Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center.

"It's clear to everyone Qandil is incompetent; it's hard to avoid that conclusion. That's an area of consensus," Hamid told AFP.

"There is also the broader extent of Muslim Brotherhood and (its political wing) Freedom and Justice Party representation in the cabinet. It's fairly low now, six or seven," he said.

The Islamists would prefer increasing their representation after a new parliament is elected, rather than joining what the presidency has described as an interim government that will change after the election.

Qandil's government, appointed after Morsi's election in June, has tried to cope with a haemorrhaging economy despite billions of dollars in aid from energy-rich Qatar and some other countries.

The government says unemployment, a main grievance among young protesters who helped overthrow president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, has risen since the uprising, while foreign investments and tourism revenues have shrunk.

The Egyptian pound, meanwhile, has dropped by roughly 10 percent to the dollar since December as Qandil's government tries to negotiate the IMF loan it hopes will restore investor confidence in the often restive country.

The loan had been delayed after a wave of protests last winter following Morsi's assumption of extensive powers. Morsi was forced to cancel tax increases, part of the economic reforms demanded by the IMF, to ward off further unrest.

The presidency is expected to unroll cuts to fuel subsidies by next fall, reforms that could possibly stoke an increase in prices and further unrest.

Morsi's supporters have argued that frequent protests, which devolve in clashes with police, are a main obstacle to the country's economic recovery.