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Morsi Spurs High Hopes for Poor Egyptians

Published: 02/07/2012 04:18:08 PM GMT
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CAIRO - The election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt's president has risen high hopes and expectations among impoverished Egyptians, who have reeled for decades of an authoritarian regime. My name is Alaa Ahmed Bayoumy and I am (more)

CAIRO - The election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt's president has risen high hopes and expectations among impoverished Egyptians, who have reeled for decades of an authoritarian regime.

"My name is Alaa Ahmed Bayoumy and I am here to ask for a higher pension," a 52-year-old man told Reuters, as he stood with groups of people outside the presidential palace on Sunday, July 1.

"I have five children and my rent costs more than my pension. That is unacceptable."

Since he was sworn in on Saturday, crowds of Egyptians have gathered around the presidential palace for demand from the new president.New Egypt: Rebirth of a Nation

They include people seeking jobs, compensation from the state or clemency for jailed relatives.

"I want a job for my son,” Ahlam Mohamed, an old woman wearing a black veil, said, as she sat on the pavement outside the palace on Sunday.

“He has been staying at home for months and he is the one who feeds us. Without him we will die.”

Under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, ordinary Egyptians were never allowed near the presidential palace.

But the situation has totally changed since the election of Morsi, the first Egyptian president from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Members of the public bearing petitions were allowed to rest in the gardens outside the palace perimeter, where they ate, drank and lounged in the shade.

Crowds of impoverished people have also gathered to meet the new president to present their demands.

Uniformed police and state security officers sporting suits and dark glasses tried to deal calmly with the crowd hoping to enter the presidential precincts, taking down names or suggesting that people make written requests for help.

Visitors pleading volubly for an audience with Morsi were occasionally let inside the palace grounds.

Morsi has said he will not turn his back on a compatriot and will seek justice for all Egyptians, including those killed or wounded in the uprising.

High Hopes

The crowd around the presidential palace reflects the weight of expectations among Egyptians from the new leader.

"I am hoping to meet the president," said 61-year-old Sayed Rashad, who said he had not been compensated for a war wound even despite filing a lawsuit against the army.

Haitham Ezzat, 29, also demanded compensation because a facial injury sustained during the anti-Mubarak revolution had stopped him working.

Workers laid off during Mubarak-era economic reforms brandished a petition naming 15 companies they accused of illegally firing employees.

"We are here to tell the president to help us quickly,” said Atef Mondy, 38, head of the Movement for Fired Workers.

“If he wants to get the production cycle moving again, we need to be paid and secure all our rights.”

Some 40 percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.

The uprising that swept Mubarak from office last year was driven by a sense that nothing could get worse, but for many it has.

Egypt's economy is floundering and joblessness is growing after political turmoil hammered investment and tourism.

State finances are stretched, which will make it hard for the new president to spend his way to popularity.

Morsi's policy program is anyway geared towards liberalization to spur investment, raising the risk of deeper economic pain in the near term.

That would come as a shock to many Egyptians who are hoping Morsi will turn on state taps and provide benefits on a far greater scale than those distributed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood's charity and social welfare networks helped to make it one of Egypt's most popular political forces, providing cheap food, medicine and other essentials to the poor.

Some wonder whether Morsi, whose prerogatives were clipped by the military even before he took office on Saturday, has the power to drive through radical change.

Any attempt to tackle poverty among Egypt's 82 million people will run up against an inefficient, lethargic bureaucracy with vested interests that could slow the pace of reform.

For now, Morsi is promising swift measures with an immediate social impact, pledging to get traffic moving, restore security, collect rubbish, and clear bottlenecks in the distribution of subsidized bread, petrol and cooking gas.

But with the military keeping a grip on national security, a remit that may include control of the Ministry of Justice, some popular demands may be impossible for Morsi to meet.

Among those waiting to see the 60-year-old president on Sunday were three women - Nahed Hussein Abdel Fattah, Marwa Khaled and Nadia Mohamed Ahmed - demanding the release of family members who they say were framed and jailed under Mubarak.

"We know Mubarak's people were tyrants and thugs. They used to fabricate crimes against people and they did that to my husband," said Ahmed.

As the day wore on, some of the petitioners at the palace gates began to lose patience. Some drifted away, others began shouting at the police keeping them outside."Open this door. It will never stand between you and your people, nor will it protect you from us," they cried.

Reproduced with permission from