For President Mohamed Morsi, the first freely elected leader in a history that stretches to the pharaohs, expectations are crushingly high. The Arab world’s most populous country is struggling to pay its international bills, and Morsi’s moves will be watched to see whether the rise of Islamists will be more about ideology or competence.
On the street, his supporters expect results.
“Morsi is going to solve unemployment, fix security and improve pensions, may God assist him,” said Mohamed Salah, 28, a jobless jewelry maker and Muslim Brotherhood voter, idling in the tiny shade of a vending cart awning on a Cairo sidewalk.
Morsi and his advisers know that Egyptians expect them to make jobs their job one.
“The economic crisis is at the top of our priorities,” said Jihad el-Haddad, a member of the economic planning committee of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). “We’re nearly out of foreign currency reserves. Foreign investors have come to have no confidence in Egypt. It’s a very, very urgent situation.”
In the short term, Morsi is scrambling to avoid a balance-of-payments crisis that could lead to a ruinous devaluation of the Egyptian pound. A billion-dollar loan from a Saudi-based development bank has bought Egypt a little time, and there are signs that Morsi and the International Monetary Fund are close to an agreement on a $3.2 billion infusion.
Such a deal would be a huge relief to those who have worried that the Islamist group would not accept the IMF’s strict conditions. But doing so would help attract additional international funding and, even more, signal a willingness by the new government to do what it must to shore up finances.
“It’s an encouraging first step,” said Mustafa Kamel el-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University. “They’re saying the right things.”
But the longer term is full of unknowns. Morsi has yet to name his cabinet, which is when Egyptians will know whether he can fulfill his pledge to staff the government with technocrats rather than the Islamist ideologues secular Egyptians fear.
And it is far from clear just how much economic authority he will be able to wrest from the military’s ruling council, which last month dissolved parliament and usurped a huge swath of presidential powers, including control of the budget.
“They don’t have a free hand,” said Ahmed Galal, a former World Bank economist and the managing director of Cairo’s Economic Research Forum. “They have the army on one side, and they won by less than 2 percent of the vote. They have never governed before; this is a book yet to be written.”