Before his appointment as Egypt’s prime minister, little was known about Hisham Qandil, an irrigation minister who last made headlines for persuading a suicidal employee not to jump out of a window.
Qandil, who selected his new cabinet on Wednesday, is now charged with accomplishing an ambitious promise by President Mohamed Morsi to improve security and the livelihoods of Egyptians in the space of several months.
For weeks after Morsi took office on June 30, the Egyptian media surmised he would pick a premier from a list of better known candidates who would satisfy a mercurial coalition of allies that reluctantly supported his election.
The choice of the technocrat Qandil disappointed Morsi’s secular allies, the more so because the new premier may, like Morsi, be an Islamist.
A closely cropped beard with no moustache — in the fashion of ultra-devout Muslims in Egypt — adorns Qandil’s face. Born in 1962, he is a fledgling when measured in Egyptian politician years.
His recent appearances in rather oversized suits have accentuated his young age compared with his hoary predecessor Kamal Ganzouri, who once declared that although many youths had not heard of him, their parents certainly had.
Qandil was a senior manager at the African Development Bank before heading Egypt’s Nile Water Sector. He was appointed a minister in 2011 after president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in a popular uprising.
The state newspaper Al-Ahram reported in June that Qandil had intervened to talk an employee out of jumping from the eighth floor of the ministry.
A father of five, Qandil graduated from Cairo University’s faculty of engineering before doing post-graduate studies in the United States.
In 1993, he received a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.
Qandil has been forced to deny that he is a member of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, or that he belonged to any party, but that has not stopped Egyptians from gossiping about the new premier’s dogma.
On social networking sites, Qandil is said to be so devout that he banned his children from listening to Western music, and that he does not even own a television.
Such gossip is impossible to verify, but it is a sign of suspicion towards Morsi, who barely won the election after many voters supported his rival, former Mubarak premier Ahmed Shafiq, in an attempt to block the Islamists from office.
After his appointment last week, Qandil called for support from all Egyptians and stressed that his government would comprise technocrats.