Ibrahim Mehlib, Egypt's Outgoing Housing Minister, Named Prime Minister

In this Nov. 24, 2013 photo, Ibrahim Mehlib, center, tours a government housing project in Ismailiya, Egypt. Egypt's interim
In this Nov. 24, 2013 photo, Ibrahim Mehlib, center, tours a government housing project in Ismailiya, Egypt. Egypt's interim president has chosen as prime minister a construction magnate from the era of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Adly Mansour on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 named Mehlib, who had for more than a decade led Egypt's biggest construction company, Arab Contractors, to replace Hazem el-Beblawi, who resigned on Monday.(AP Photo/Khaled Kandil)

CAIRO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Egypt's outgoing housing minister Ibrahim Mahlab told state-run Al-Ahram newspaper on Tuesday that he had been asked to form a new government, Al-Ahram reported on its website.

The choice of defence minister may hold clues as to when army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will announce a widely expected bid for the presidency. Sisi must vacate the post of defence minister, which he held in the outgoing cabinet, in order to run in the vote that could be held as soon as April.

Mahlab is a civil engineer who was formerly head of one of Egypt's biggest construction firms. He was also an official in deposed President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

Speaking to Al-Ahram after meeting interim President Adly Mansour, Mahlab said he would immediately begin consultations on appointing a new cabinet.

Beblawi's government resigned on Monday. It took office in July after the army removed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi from power following mass protests against his rule.

During Beblawi's tenure, the state cracked down hard on Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood. Rights groups criticised his government for crushing dissent through other moves, including a law imposing tough penalties on people who protest illegally.

Beblawi's government received billions of dollars in aid from Gulf states hostile to the Brotherhood but was criticised by analysts for failing to take quick steps towards reforming an economy burdened by a massive state subsidy bill.

Besides serving as chairman and CEO of Arab Contractors Company, Mahlab has also worked in Saudi Arabia, according to a curriculum vitae distributed by the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities.

"I think he will be a very practical prime minister, but of course it is a very difficult position given the economic problems and the very high expectations of the public," said Angus Blair, chairman of business and economic forecasting think-tank Signet, who recently heard Mahlab speak at a seminar.

"He was very frank about the problems Egypt faces and very clear that you have to bring the population with you on what needs to done in policies that would have to be undertaken to improve the economy," he said.

Mahlab is married and speaks English and French. (Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alistair Lyon)



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