CAIRO — Egypt’s new Islamist president on Saturday strongly defended his performance in his first 100 days in office, facing down criticism that little has been achieved even as he acknowledged that his administration has not fulfilled all of his promises and that much work lies ahead.
Speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands at a Cairo’s largest sports stadium, Mohammed Morsi used his nearly two-hour speech to lay out what he presented as achievements since he took power in late June as Egypt’s first freely elected president.
“This nation, these people, this army, the establishment, the president, the children of Egypt – we are all now moving toward one goal: a new Egypt,” he said.
Critics say Morsi has not accomplished as much as he could have since winning elections, and accuse the president’s Muslim Brotherhood party of mimicking the former regime by going after critics and stuffing government posts with loyalists.
Saturday’s event, which included a military parade as part of a ceremony to mark the anniversary of Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, was also a show of force for the Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that has emerged as the country’s most powerful political group since last year’s uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Brotherhood supporters packed the stadium’s stands and gave the president a raucous welcome. Morsi responded by pumping both fists in the air and waving to the crowd as he was driven around the track upon his arrival.
In his speech, Morsi acknowledged that he has not fully delivered on key promises to fix Egypt’s garbage problem, its traffic problems and energy crisis. But he said that many of the basic issues he set out to fix first in his first 100 days in office — which ends Sunday — such as reducing Cairo’s notoriously snarled traffic, have shown improvement.
Upon taking office in late June, Morsi inherited a long list of domestic crises, with the country’s downturned economy topping the list. The nation’s tourism industry, a key source of revenue, has taken a huge hit as a result of the political instability following the uprising, while foreign investment has dwindled.
He promised to overhaul a decades-old subsidies program that weighs heavily on the budget.
Egypt has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan to help bolster the economy, and officials says the IMF has asked Egypt to restructure its subsidies system as one of the prerequisite for the loan.
He also reiterated that he would abide by Islamic banking laws and not accept interest on the loan, telling the cheering crowd that “we’ll go hungry before we eat off of interest.”
He said that his government cracked down on a “mafia” of officials working in the Petroleum Ministry who were siphoning off millions of dollars in corrupt deals.
In contrast, he said he was still living in a rented apartment on the outskirts of Cairo and asked people to take him to task if he is seen driving around in a new car that is not part of the president’s motorcade.
“I say this to you why? Because personally… I said a long time ago I have no rights, but obligations,” Morsi said.
Morsi’s supporters, and even liberal and secular opponents, have given him credit for politically sidelining the military shortly after taking office by forcing a number of senior generals who had served under Mubarak into retirement after a tumultuous military-led transition and stamping his own authority on the country’s executive.
While Morsi sought to highlight his achievements, the Morsi Meter, a website that is tracking the president’s first 100 days in office, said that the president has fulfilled five of his 64 promises.
Some of Morsi’s critics express frustration with the slow pace of reform, and say they see shadows of the past in his governing style.
“I see his policies as Mubarak’s policies, but with an Islamic overture,” said Mohamed Abdelaziz, a human rights lawyer. “It is the same economic policy and same language.”
He also accused Morsi of abandoning the revolution’s goals of freedom, justice and social equality.
“Islamic jihadists are being released from prison … but at the same time we hear little about the thousands of revolutionaries who were tried under military rule,” he said, referring to recent pardons by the president. “Until now there are wounded protesters who cannot even find treatment.”
Preceding Morsi’s speech was a military parade that included soldiers parachuting out of helicopters to mark the 39th anniversary of Egypt’s Oct. 6 1973 war with Israel.
Morsi’s predecessor, Mubarak, had earned nationwide fame as commander of the air force during the war. More than a dozen protesters rallied Saturday outside Tora prison in support of the ousted leader, calling him a war hero. He is serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killings of protesters during the revolt against him.