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Egypt's New Leader Struggles To Fulfill Big Promises

Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, has promised to improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians during his first 100 days in office. But Morsi, shown here in July, is dealing with multiple challenges, including an economy that has been struggling since last year's revolution. (AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has made sweeping promises to the Egyptian people, saying he'll improve the quality of their lives during his first 100 days in office.

Morsi has been busy on several fronts, but he has only a few weeks left to fulfill those big pledges.

His promises have come in nightly radio broadcasts during the holy month of Ramadan. A decent loaf of bread is a demand for us all, he declared in one of those broadcasts, saying subsidized bread will be more widely available and of better quality.

But in Sayed Abdel Moneim's ramshackle, one-room home in Cairo's working-class district of Shubra el Kheima, bread, he says, is just one small issue.

The 45-year-old man's face is creased with the lines of someone much older. He carries the burden of supporting a family with no job and no unemployment check while he searches for work.

Anticipating Change

Abdel Moneim says he thought the revolt that ended the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak would bring him and others like him prosperity. Instead, the economy plummeted, his company downsized, and he lost his job as an electrician. Now he rents a room across the hall from his in-laws. And his wife, Maha, is pregnant.

Maha welcomes a visiting reporter into her home. A light bulb dangles from the cracked ceiling. A mattress on the floor is flanked by a small sink, a table with a broken TV, and a cupboard for dishes. It costs Abdel Moneim about $16 a month to live here. Often, it's more than he makes from odd jobs he can get.

At a nearby bakery subsidized by the government, Leila Mustapha Mahmoud claps the dirt off the loaf she's just bought. It looks almost inedible. She says she hopes Morsi will succeed in making things better.

But so far, very little has been accomplished. Morsi has also promised a quick fix to alleviate Cairo's grinding traffic problems and to clean up the city's garbage-strewn streets.

And over the long term, Morsi has vowed to chip away at the cavernous gap between the rich and poor in Egypt.

Demands For Economic Change

In large part, the mass revolt that led to Mubarak's ouster last year was driven by hunger and widespread poverty. More than 30 million of Egypt's 80 million people live on less than $2 a day.

Human rights activists say that for now, issues like unemployment and inflation are not even part of the political debate. And that, they say, is the problem.

But Morsi's supporters, like Ali Abdel Fattah of the Muslim Brotherhood, say the president needs more time. He is inheriting a corrupt system, and until last week he had little real power. But now that he has sidelined the army generals who ruled in the wake of the uprising, he can begin to make real changes, says Abdel Fattah.

"Well, the problems will not be solved in 100 days. We have talked about garbage, security, bread, cooking gas, and traffic," he says. "These are the five problems of the 100 days. As for unemployment, this will take years."

Rough Days

Back in the working class district of Shubra el Kheima, Maha's 52-year-old mother, Zaineb, is weeping.

"I'm so tired," she says. She takes medication for hepatitis C, which costs $50 a month. She and her husband, Hassan, are already thousands of dollars in debt.

The house is suffocating, says Hassan, pointing at the peeling walls, the leaking ceiling and the bathroom outside that they share with 15 people. He has little faith that this new president will change things.

But on this evening, after the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast, the family will feast. Maha fries up five fish in the dingy hallway.

The family sits on the floor to break their fast together. They spent the equivalent of $3 on this supper.

When asked if the family usually eats like this, Maha laughs. "Tonight is special," she says, because there are guests. It's usually a little fruit, bread, beans and cheese. Never meat.

The family picks at the meal, leaving most of the food for the pregnant Maha.

Whether things will get better, they say, is up to God.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The new president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, is firmly in the spotlight. Egyptians have high expectations for their first post-revolution president. Mr. Morsi's made sweeping promises to the Egyptian people, saying that he'll improve the quality of their lives, address crimes, sanitation and the high price of bread. Leila Fadel followed one working-class family in a poor district of Cairo to find out if things have changed for them in the short time that President Morsi has been in office.

PRESIDENT MOHAMMED MORSI: (Foreign language spoken)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Morsi's promises have come in nightly radio broadcasts like this one during the holy month of Ramadan. The loaf of bread in Egypt is a demand for us all, he declared in one of those broadcasts, promising that subsidized bread will be more widely available and of better quality. But in Sayed Abdel Moneim's one-room ramshackle home in the working class district of Shubra el Kheima, bread, he says, is the smallest problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

FADEL: The 45-year-old man's face is creased with the lines of someone much older. He carries the burden of supporting a family with no job and no unemployment checks while he searches for work.

SAYED ABDEL MONEIM: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Abdel Moneim says he thought the revolt that ended the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak would bring him and others like him prosperity. Instead, the economy plummeted, his company downsized and he lost his job as an electrician. Now, he rents a room across the hall from his in-laws. And his wife Maha is pregnant.

MAHA MONEIM: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Maha welcomes into her home. A light bulb dangles from the cracked ceiling. A mattress on the floor is flanked by a small sink, a table with a broken TV and a cupboard for dishes. It costs Abdel Moneim the equivalent of $16 a month to live here. Often, it's more than he makes.

LEILA MUSTAPHA MAHMOUD: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: At a nearby government-subsidized bakery, Leila Mustapha Mahmoud claps the dirt off the loaf she's just bought. It looks almost inedible. She says, she hopes Morsi will succeed in making things better. But so far very little has been accomplished. In his first hundred days, Morsi has also promised to alleviate Cairo's grinding traffic problems and clean up the city's garbage-strewn streets.

Over the long term, Morsi has vowed to chip away at the cavernous gap between the rich and the poor in Egypt. In large part, the mass revolt that led to Mubarak's ouster last year was driven by hunger and widespread poverty. More than 30 million Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.

Human rights activists say that for now, issues like unemployment and inflation are not even part of the political debate. And that, they say, is the problem. But Morsi's supporters, like Ali Abdel Fattah of the Muslim Brotherhood, say the president needs more time. He is inheriting a corrupt system, and until last week he had little real power. But now that he has sidelined the generals who ruled in the wake of the uprising, he can begin to make real changes, says Abdel Fattah.

ALI ABDEL FATTAH: (Through Translator) In the name of God, well, the problems will not be solved in 100 days. We have talked about garbage, security, bread, cooking gas and traffic. These are the five problems of the 100 days. As for unemployment, this will take years.

FADEL: Back in the working class district of Shubra al Kheima, Maha's 53-year-old mother, Zaineb is weeping. I'm so tired, she says. She shows me the medication she takes for hepatitis C. That alone is $50 a month. Her husband, Hassan, is already thousands of dollars in debt.

HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The house is suffocating, says Hassan pointing at the peeling walls, the leaking ceiling, and the bathroom outside they share with 15 people. He has little faith that this new president will change things.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUNNING)

FADEL: But on this evening, after the day-long Ramadan fast, the family will feast. Maha fries up five fish in the dingy hallway. The family sits on the floor to break their fast together. They spent the equivalent of $3 on this supper.

I asked if they usually eat like this.

MONEIM: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: Maha laughs. Tonight is special, she says, because there are guests. It's usually a little fruit, bread, beans and maybe cheese. Never meat. The family picks at the meal, leaving most of the food for the pregnant Maha. Whether things will get better, they say, is up to God. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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