Maher Moustafa calls his decrepit neighborhood in Cairo the “street of tragedy.” When he’s in a bad mood, he just calls it “Egypt.”
Largely home-bound by diabetes, the 50-year-old ex-teacher spends his days watching neighbors in the Basateen district from a fourth-floor window. Some suffer from ailments like his. Most, he says, have slumped from euphoria after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster to despair under President Mohamed Mursi. “I wish things had even stayed the same, but they’ve got worse,” Moustafa said. “Mursi sold out this country for the votes of his party.”
Egypt will mark tomorrow’s second anniversary of the uprising the same way it began, with mass protests. This time Mursi will be the target, accused of sidelining judges and pushing through an Islamist constitution to consolidate the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power.
Such measures have aroused the ire of the opposition groups planning rallies. What they haven’t done is improve daily life in places like Basateen. Many people there profess indifference to the ideological disputes that dominate headlines, while few can point to improvements in pre-uprising problems like corruption, or even traffic jams. And the Mursi era has brought new dangers. A plunge in Egypt’s currency threatens inflation, and the International Monetary Fund may demand austerity that could hurt the poor, in return for a $4.8 billion loan.
While Mursi inherited a legacy of mismanagement, the area “in which he failed most is being honest with the Egyptian people about where the country stands economically, about the need for sacrifice, about what his plan is,” said Yasser el- Shimy, Middle East analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The country’s economic woes have fueled disillusion not just with Islamists “but the democratic process itself,” he said.
Egypt’s foreign reserves are still almost 60 percent below pre-uprising levels. The 7 percent slide in the pound over the past month is the biggest for a decade. Economic growth in the past two years was the slowest in two decades. The benchmark stock index is down about 30 percent in dollar terms since the end of 2010, even after a rally under Mursi.
The president last month suspended tax rises linked to his IMF-backed economic plan.
Ahmed Sobea, a media adviser to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, acknowledges a lack of progress yet says that in prevailing conditions it’s to Mursi’s credit that things aren’t worse.
“We can’t say that the living standards of people have improved, but they haven’t deteriorated, despite the economic situation and the currency crisis,” Sobea said in a phone interview. It’s also early to judge Mursi, he said. “How can you hold someone accountable at the beginning of their term?”
A political agenda full of repeats has added to criticism that Mursi isn’t moving Egypt forward.
Parliamentary elections will be held again in the coming months after courts dissolved the legislature’s lower chamber. Mubarak and his interior minister, sentenced to life, will be retried after the verdicts were overturned. The IMF loan bid, twice halted by the government, is onto its third try.
Disasters such as train crashes and building collapses are frequent, killing scores and reminding Egyptians of the problems to be addressed
“I didn’t expect Mursi to just make the problems vanish, that would take years,” said Ayman Hafez, a 37-year-old civil servant. Still, Hafez says he regrets his vote for Mursi because the Islamist hasn’t lived up to his promise “about being a president for all of us.”
Sobea, from the Brotherhood’s party, said the government is working to attract funds for “major projects that can transform Egypt,” and that constant protests are destabilizing the country without offering practical ways forward.
“The people want to eat and drink,” he said. “What we want from the Egyptian opposition is to help in the building efforts.”
While Mursi and his government have borne the brunt of criticism, the opposition has also struggled to broaden support. The constitution passed comfortably in last month’s referendum, though almost 70 percent of eligible voters failed to turn out.
Egyptians call it the “Couch Party” -- the majority that has stayed on the sidelines in post-Mubarak votes. Both sides are stepping up efforts to reach them.
The Brotherhood this week announced a new program to provide free medical services to a million people, upgrade hundreds of schools and ensure staple goods are sold at cost price. It’s a return to the kind of grassroots efforts that allowed the group to amass millions of backers as the most powerful opposition under Mubarak.
The opposition’s diverse strands, including secular and youth activists, minority Christians and politicians from a range of parties have pledged to unite for elections, something they’ve failed to do in the past.
“We have no other option,” because of the “threat that the Muslim Brotherhood presents to the future of Egypt,” Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front umbrella group, said by phone.
Protesters clashed with security forces in Cairo today as they sought to take down concrete barriers on a street near the Cabinet’s office, the Interior Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.
Dawoud said the Front’s supporters will be demonstrating again tomorrow against Mursi. Some poorer Egyptians say they’re weary of protests that they see as representing the concerns of a privileged elite.
“My sons are looking for work and they’re just blocking the streets, demanding the revolution continue,” said Hussein El-Guindy, a retired driver in Manshiyat Nasr, a sprawling slum of crumbling mud-brick buildings and narrow alleys. “They’re all just interested in who sits in the president’s chair. They have no more of an idea about running this country than Mursi does.”
El-Guindy, 62, pointed to the cemetery that lies across the neighborhood’s main road and is a home for the living as much as the dead. “I can’t even afford to be buried there,” he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at email@example.com; Mariam Fam in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com