By Tom Perry
CAIRO | Fri Oct 5, 2012
CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has won grudging respect from detractors in his first 100 days by sending the army back to barracks faster than anyone expected and raising Egypt’s international profile in several newsmaking visits abroad.
Yet his political fortunes and those of the Muslim Brotherhood which propelled him to power may well depend on his delivering on more mundane issues such as easing traffic congestion and bread and fuel shortages by October 7 as promised.
The image of the bespectacled civil engineer as Egypt’s “accidental president”, forced into the election by the disqualification of the Muslim Brotherhood’s preferred choice, has faded as the self-imposed deadline approaches.
Major tests have included managing the aftermath of violent protests at the U.S. embassy in September triggered by a film that denigrated Islam. Diplomats felt his response was slow, but it was apparently effective – damage to ties with Egypt’s biggest benefactor was minimal while Mursi earned credibility at home for appearing sensitive to popular anger.
Mursi has also mostly avoided getting bogged down in contentious issues such as the role Islamic law will play in the government and laws of post-Mubarak Egypt. That debate, which pitches secular-minded Egyptians against Islamists, is going on within the body writing a new constitution.
But Mursi’s successes have often been overshadowed in the Egyptian media by domestic problems, including industrial action that has served as a reminder of the deep economic problems that fuelled the uprising against predecessor President Hosni Mubarak.
“The expectations that he would deal with all injustices quickly created an atmosphere of hopes that are very high and unrealistic,” said Hassan Abu Taleb, a political consultant at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies.
Meeting those expectations could prove crucial to the Brotherhood’s performance in a parliamentary election expected by early next year or sooner.
But there are no quick fixes in a nation with a sprawling bureaucracy riddled with corruption and health and education systems in need of overhaul. Egypt is ranked 101 out of 169 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index.
Two-fifths of the 83 million population live around the poverty line and depend on subsidies that are straining the treasury; one of Mursi’s first moves to was to seek a $4.8 billion IMF loan to support state finances.
Easing Cairo’s traffic was always a tall order, for example, and not helped by the fact that public transport workers were among those to go on strike.
“We voted for him on the basis that he would restore our rights,” said Ibrahim Awadallah, seeking relief from a state loan he grumbled taxi drivers were forced to take on to finance their new white cabs. “It’s time for him to meet his promises.”
‘NO REASON FOR DELAY’
Doctors in the run-down public health system are the latest workers to go on strike. Their demands include a pay rise in a sector where a graduate doctor can earn as little as 200 Egyptian pounds ($30) a month. “We see no reason for delay,” said Sameh Abdel Azeem, one of the strike organizers.
According to the online “Morsi Meter”, on day 97 the new president had achieved just four of 64 pre-election promises he said would be delivered on in his first 100 days in power.