President has not tackled Egypt's biggest problems

Associated Press Modified: September 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm •  Published: September 5, 2012
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CAIRO (AP) — Power and water outages are common across Egypt. Crime is rampant. The value of the currency is slipping.

Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi has yet to offer anything concrete on how he plans to tackle some of the nation's most intractable problems. Instead, he is taking steps to shore up his Muslim Brotherhood group ahead of new parliamentary elections and is trying to project himself as a charismatic Arab leader standing up to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

Morsi campaigned on a package of promises that included political inclusion, freedom of expression and a swift end to paralyzing traffic congestion, skyrocketing crime and the scourge of garbage uncollected.

Yet in his first two months in office, he has appeared to focus his attention elsewhere. That has raised questions about his priorities at a time when Egyptians' expectations are higher than ever following the ouster last year of Hosni Mubarak, whose authoritarian regime was widely seen as favoring the rich over the poor during three decades in power.

While Morsi has done little of substance to address domestic woes so far, he has tried to make his mark on foreign policy. It is a realm where there is little accountability because most of Egypt's 83 million people are too preoccupied with making ends meet.

"Experience has shown that foreign policy brings him more success and popularity than if he fulfilled his promises to the people," said political scientist Mustafa Kamel el-Sayed of Cairo University.

The Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, rejected as baseless the claim that the president assumed a high profile on foreign policy at a time when progress on domestic issues was slow.

"The president does not speak of the rights of the Palestinians or the people of Syria to bolster his popularity," said Nader Omran of the party's foreign relations committee. "He does this out of principle," he told The Associated Press.

Morsi also won praise for standing up to the military generals who ruled Egypt for 17 months after Mubarak was ousted. He ordered the retirement of the country's top two generals, who had headed the ruling military council that took over from Mubarak. That move was welcomed by the liberals and leftists who were largely behind last year's uprising.

But many Egyptians are still looking for improvements in their day-to-day lives.

"To me, as an Egyptian citizen, I am only concerned with what impacts on daily life, things like power cuts and the rights of the poor," said Gamal Eid, a prominent activist and rights lawyer.

The country is suffering power and water outages with a frequency not seen in decades and during intense summer heat. People's patience has been pushed to the limit as repeated promises of a quick end to the problem do not materialize.

Opening himself for criticism, Morsi has called on Egyptians to ration their use of electricity to reduce pressure on the grid and his prime minister urged people to wear cotton clothes to cope better with the heat at home when electricity is out. The latter suggestion drew ridicule from the media and on social media networks, with the U.S.-trained engineer nicknamed after a famous Egyptian cotton wear company.

Many Egyptians say they do feel safer on the streets after an unprecedented wave of violent crime terrorized the nation in the months that followed Mubarak's ouster in February, 2011. However, armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom, car theft and burglaries are too commonplace for a nation accustomed to heavy policing and deterrence through harsh treatment, including torture, for criminal suspects.

The Egyptian currency, the pound, was trading Wednesday at around 6.10 to the U.S. dollar, down more than 1 percent since Morsi took office in late June. While the drop is modest, it is significant because the pound has traditionally enjoyed the central bank's vigorous support when under pressure.

It also comes at a time of intense speculation that the International Monetary Fund may ask Egypt to devalue the pound as part of a package of painful reforms to set the economy on a better course and secure a loan of $4.8 billion.

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