Cairo: President Mohamed Mursi has asked Hisham Kandil, a relatively young water minister little known outside Egypt, to form a new government, disappointing investors who had hoped for a high-profile economy specialist.
Kandil was a senior bureaucrat in the ministry until he was appointed minister in July last year after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. He obtained a doctorate in irrigation from the University of North Carolina in the United States in 1993, according to the water ministry's Facebook page.
A spokesman for Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood politician sworn in as Egypt's first freely elected president on June 30, described Kandil as an "independent patriot" who had not belonged to a party either before or after the popular uprising against Mubarak, according to the state news agency.
Yet Kandil's beard has generated speculation that he has Islamist sympathies. He has denied being affiliated to any Islamist group, but told Al Jazeera in an interview last year he had grown his beard out of a sense of religious duty.
Kandil did not feature among the long list of potential candidates for premier circulated by Egyptian media in the three weeks since Mursi took office.
That speculation had focused on a group of economists including past and present central bank officials.
Egypt's benchmark share index .EGX30, which was trading flat before the announcement, fell 0.7 percent.
"This is quite a surprise as most of the names put around had been from the financial sector. The market is definitely reacting negatively," said Mohamed Radwan at Pharos Securities.
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, risks a budget and balance of payments crisis unless it can secure urgent aid from foreign donors and lure back foreign investors who fled the country after last year's political upheaval.
Mursi was due to meet Kandil later on Tuesday. Kandil recently accompanied Mursi to an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.