Mixed reviews as Egypt’s new president hits 100-day mark in office
CAIRO — As President Mohamed Morsi is discovering, the new Egypt is a place where public opinion matters.
Elected in June in the country’s first democratic presidential elections, Morsi had promised to accomplish a lot during his first 100 days in office, a window that closes on Sunday. In a manner that would have been inconceivable during Egypt’s authoritarian past, critics have been taking turns putting Morsi through the ringer.
Only four of Morsi’s 64 promises for the first 100 days have been carried out, said Amr Sobhi, a co-creator of the Morsi Meter, a Web site inspired by the U.S.-based Obama Meter site that aims to track the president’s success.
Piles of garbage continue to line some streets of the capital. Strikes over wages and overdue benefits have halted some public-sector services, particularly in Egypt’s woefully underfunded hospitals. One man even filed a police report against Morsi for failing to implement all of his 100-day promises, according to the Egypt Independent, an English-language daily.
But in newspaper headlines and on street corners, Morsi’s administration and its backers in the Muslim Brotherhood have been pushing back. Not only did Morsi do well in his first three months, they argue, but he also did all that could have been expected, given the cards he was dealt.
“I think his performance has been great,” said Rashad Bayoumi, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. The president inherited a crippling national debt, Bayoumi said, but he has also made important strides to shift the balance of power away from the military, which held sway even after the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in the uprisings of 2011.
Morsi’s first term marks a major experiment in elected Islamist rule in the Arab world after decades of repression. The stakes are high, particularly in Egypt, where Egyptians are expected to head to the polls in the coming months to approve a new constitution and then elect a parliament.
Omar Ashour, a professor at Exeter University in Britain and an expert on Islamist movements, said the Brotherhood learned a hard lesson at the polls this year and is maneuvering carefully past the 100-day mark.
The group, together with more conservative Salafist parties, pulled off a landslide Islamist victory in the first national election after Mubarak’s fall, he said. But while 70 percent of voters chose Islamist candidates for parliament, only 50 percent were still voting Islamist by the time the presidential election rolled around four months later.
Public opinion took its toll, Ashour said. The seated parliament had almost no authority — but that didn’t matter to the country’s newly empowered voters who wanted fast solutions for a gutted economy and worsening security in the streets.
“The perception was: You guys had your chance and you didn’t do much,” he said. In the end, Morsi beat his runoff competitor, former military man Ahmed Shafik, by only a narrow margin.
Morsi’s 64 campaign promises, which addressed matters of security, fuel, cleanliness, traffic and bread — with no mention of the Brotherhood’s traditional religious rhetoric — were in turn rooted in the group’s growing understanding of an increasingly powerful electorate, analysts and Brotherhood officials said.
“Those are the things that the regular Egyptian citizen is concerned with. They are people’s basic needs,” said Bayoumi, the Freedom and Justice Party spokesman. The debt has made it difficult to address economic concerns, he said, in a country where 40 percent of the population makes less than $2 a day.
Sobhi said that of his Web site’s visitors who had chosen to participate in an online survey, only 42 percent ranked Morsi’s performance favorably.
“He never acted upon what he promised,” said Talaat Ali, the supervisor of a government-subsidized bakery, who stood to benefit from campaign promises to further subsidize his workload and improve the nutritional quality of the country’s bread.
But the administration and the Muslim Brotherhood have sought to play down the promises left unfulfilled — arguing that 100 days were not enough time to enact palpable changes — while highlighting Morsi’s diplomatic successes instead.
The president’s strategic globetrotting in recent weeks has ended an era of submissive relations with other countries and launched a new order of “balanced relations based on mutual respect,” said Mahmoud Ghazlan, another Freedom and Justice spokesman.
“This is something of great importance for Egyptians because it is retrieving the country’s will and dignity and decision-making [abilities],” he said.
In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly last month, Morsi earned fans at home by challenging the American definition of freedom of expression, after riots over a YouTube video about Islam’s prophet, and he called for an end to the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
To counter the naysayers, the cabinet released its own poll this week, which found that 60 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with Morsi’s performance — although nearly 40 percent said they were not aware that the president had a 100-day plan, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram daily.
But more telling than whether Morsi has been successful is the fact that Egyptians are finally having a conversation about it, said Sobhi, the creator of the Morsi Meter.
“Now people can talk about the president as opposed to just whispering the president’s name,” he said, adding that Egyptians are gaining the tools to make their decisions “based on information rather than intuition.’’
Ingy Hassieb and Haitham Mohamed contributed to this report.
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