CAIRO — Egypt’s president appointed a new prime minister on Tuesday, asking Hesham Kandil — a US-educated technocrat currently serving as water and irrigation minister — to form a new government.
It took President Mohammed Morsi more than three weeks to make the appointment, and the elevation of Kandil came as a surprise.
Kandil, who was born in 1962, will be the first Egyptian prime minister to wear a beard, a clear sign of change in a country where such an outward display of Islamic piety was long outlawed.
Morsi, who took power three weeks ago after last month’s elections, is already Egypt’s first bearded president.
News of the appointment was met with bafflement on the streets of Cairo, where few people recognized their new prime minister’s name, and by disappointment in financial markets, where investors were hoping for an experienced economist who could stave off the threat of a budget crisis.
Morsi had promised to appoint someone from outside the Muslim Brotherhood party to form a unity government, but the fact that Kandil is bearded was seen as a sign of his social and political leanings. In an interview with Al-Jazeera last year, Kandil denied being affiliated to any Islamist group but said he had grown his beard out of a sense of religious duty.
In a brief and hastily scheduled news conference, Kandil said he would work closely with Morsi to form a technocratic government where competency would be the primary criterion for ministerial appointments. But he gave no time frame for forming the Cabinet.
‘New faces with acceptance on the street are always better. There’s rejection and discomfort toward anyone brought in by Mubarak or the Military Council.’’
‘‘We must retrieve the spirit of the revolution to build Egypt,’’ Kandil said, adding that his government would work to implement Morsi’s promises for his first 100 days as president.
‘‘We are in a difficult stage and have many challenges facing us. There are economic and security problems, and there is pressure on resources, but the core is the president’s program.’’
Kandil earned a master’s degree from Utah State University in 1988 and a doctorate in irrigation from North Carolina State University in 1993. He has served as a senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and as chief water resources engineer at the African Development Bank.
Last July, he was appointed to take over the irrigation ministry in a government controlled by Egypt’s military leaders, who effectively ran the country between the fall of president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and the election of Morsi.
Activist and lawyer Gamal Eid said he would have preferred a prime minister who was completely untainted by association with the military, but he said the time to judge Kandil would be when he formed his government.
‘‘New faces with acceptance on the street are always better,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s rejection and discomfort toward anyone brought in by Mubarak or the Military Council.’’
With the military still wielding immense power in Egypt, it was not clear how much control Kandil would be able to exert over the choice of key roles, such as the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, and interior.
A host of more experienced candidates had been suggested for the prime minister’s role, but in the end Morsi appeared to follow in the Egyptian presidential tradition of appointing a prime minister unlikely to threaten or overshadow him, analysts said.
‘‘The president did not want to have a powerful person to be his prime minister,’’ said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University and head of the firm Partners in Development for Research, Consulting, and Training. ‘‘The Muslim Brotherhood do not want someone who would challenge them when it comes to the relationship between religion and politics.’’
Sayyid said Kandil’s lack of economic expertise, the fact that he did not have time to establish a track record as minister of irrigation, and his lack of experience running ministerial committees were all matters of concern.