CAIRO Egypt's interim president named at least 18 new provincial governors on Tuesday, half of them retired generals, in a shake-up that pushed out Muslim Brotherhood members and restored the influence of men from army and police backgrounds.
Deposed president Mohamed Mursi had appointed a number of civilians as provincial governors during his year in office, some of them members of his Brotherhood. That marked a break with the Hosni Mubarak era, when the posts typically went to retired army and police officers.
The new appointees were sworn in by Interim President Adli Mansour, head of the army-backed government, which replaced the Mursi administration that was removed last month after mass protests against Brotherhood rule.
Critics said the line-up announced on Tuesday was a step back towards autocratic rule.
"It is Mubarak's days," prominent blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah wrote on his Twitter feed. "Down, down with every Mubarak. Sisi is Mubarak," he added, referring to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who deposed Mursi.
In a meeting at the presidential palace, Mansour told the governors their priority was to improve public services, "provide essential commodities at appropriate prices, and bring about security in the Egyptian street".
Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group, called the move a "partial return to the status quo ante, where the appointment of retired generals is seen as a way to ensure order and stability".
"This move will likely play into Islamist accusations that the new regime is an attempt at reviving the old one," he said.
The Nour Party, Egypt's second biggest Islamist group, said the appointments were disappointing and had been made without any consultation. "The choice confirms we are heading in the path of the militarization of the state," Sherif Taha, the party spokesman, told Reuters.
The "April 6" pro-democracy youth movement, which played a prominent role in igniting the revolt against Mubarak, said the appointments included too many military men and remnants of the old regime.
"Holding on to the old faces that contributed to ruining political life before the revolution is a new failure for the current administration," the movement said on its website.
In his final days in office, Mursi drew criticism when he appointed a member of the Gamaa Islamiya, a group that once waged an armed struggle for Islamic rule, as governor of Luxor, where members of the movement killed 58 tourists in 1997.
Mursi's appointment of Brotherhood members as provincial governors fuelled accusations that his movement was staging a power grab - a charge the Brotherhood always denied, but which added fuel to the uprising against his rule.
Strong Egypt, a party led by former Brotherhood politician Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, described the shake-up as "a step towards the militarization of the state that copied the approach of the Brotherhood", Al-Ahram reported, quoting a spokesman.
Writing on his Facebook page, Mohamed Abu Hamed, a former member of parliament, said it was "a very positive step" towards implementing an army-backed "road map" that envisages parliamentary elections within about five months. The Brotherhood rejects the plan and continues to demand Mursi's reinstatement.
(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmyl; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Kevin Liffey)