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President Morsi could face a summer of discontent

Despite victory in referendum battle, the president had to field key resignations this week while others are reportedly in the pipeline; grave economic problems await a leader who doesn't see a 'crisis', some argue

Dina Ezzat, Thursday 27 Dec 2012
Summer of discontent fast approaching
Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi speaks to supporters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo November 23, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
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Views: 4768

President Mohamed Morsi is expected to address the Shura Council Saturday morning. The council will assume legislative powers following the ratification by the president of a controversial constitution passed by referendum with a less than two thirds majority of Egypt’s illegible 51 million voters, according to official results announced Tuesday.

Morsi’s speech will be his second public statement since he gave a televised address three weeks ago in the wake of bloody confrontations between his followers and opponents around the presidential palace that saw 10 dead and tens injured.

In that short speech, a clearly iritated president spoke in "us and them" terms, blaming the opposition for the political turmoil that rocked the country after his controversial 22 November constitutional decree that maximised his powers before he then called for a referendum on a highly controversial text of Egypt’s first post-25 January Revolution constitution.

According to sources with an insight into the general guidelines of Morsi’s expected speech, the president will attempt to dispel fears over the condition of the executive body.

Morsi, according to information provided to Ahram Online, will directly address the recent wave of resignations he has faced, including that of the vice president and the governor of the Egyptian Central Bank.

The president, however, will underline that his government is working hard and in unison to attend to pressing economic and political challenges, which he will also blame the opposition for.

Morsi is also set to “alleviate” wide and expanding public concern over a declining economy but the president would stop short of fully acknowledging a "crisis," by only speaking of some difficulties which he will attribute to intrasigence of the political opposition and the influence of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak.

The president’s speech before the Shrua Council Saturday would draw a grey rather than white or black picture, and would appeal to the sentiment of the public to stand in the face of his political opposition to prevent a further economic decline.

That aside, Morsi’s address might include a few lines on commitment to equal citizenship and respect for different faiths.

“He might have a word on the birth of Jesus, but not necessarily, because he does not want to anger the Salafis,” said one source.

But while Morsi’s speech might satisfy some of his allies, and might draw him some support against the political opposition, it will not neutralise wide concern over the upcoming increase in prices of dozens of goods and the ongoing de facto devaluation of the Egyptian pound.

The resignation of Vice President Mahmoud Mekki, which he announced on the last day of the referendum on the constitution, was very discomforting to Morsi. The president would have preferred Mekki announce his resignation after the adoption of the new constitution, which in any case eliminates the post of vice-president, in order not to create the appearance of sending mixed political signals to the public on Morsi's performance.

Mekki, who said he had first tendered his resignation in the first week of November, finally decided to come out in public with his decision at a sensitive time for Morsi.

A close aide says that Mekki never had an easy time, being under-utilised by the president in the months following the election only to be given the hard assignment of containing the state of political polarisation that surfaced with the adoption of the controversial 22 November constitutional declaration.

According to the same source, Mekki became upset beyond the point of return as Morsi would agree on certain issues with the VP only to change his mind upon the advice of the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Vice President Mekki left thinking that President Morsi is a good man at heart and could do a good job if he was not torn apart between the advice of his [executive and bureaucratic] aides and that coming from [the Guidance Bureau],” said Mekki’s aide.

Meanwhile, Morsi will have to make sure that he carefully observes the advice of his resigning governor of the Egyptian Central Bank who “conditionally agreed” to stay in his job for a few more weeks to prevent “an upcoming economic crisis.”

Farouk El-Oqda, who told the president last week that the Egyptian economy was falling apart, came back from Paris where he was planning to stay for a while after two potential successors declined the job categorically due to what they qualified as “a catastrophic situation" that could only be saved by the man who understands the intricacies of the Egyptian economy.

A source close to El-Oqda told Ahram Online that Morsi personally called the governor and appealed to him to come back to Egypt in order to help him “save the ship from going under, for the sake of Egypt and Egyptians.”

El-Oqda agreed to heed the president's request on condition that Morsi promptly act to accommodate the concerns of the opposition over the domination of Muslim Brotherhood cadres over policies and state affairs, from laws to economic choices. El-Oqda also demanded an end to comments and interventions from the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau in economic policy, as well as a presidential effort to assure foreign investors that their money is safe in Egypt.

Morsi is now battling to honour his promise to El-Oqda at a time when he knows that the Guidance Bureau might not fully support him and against a backdrop of his sharply declining popularity according to the assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, says one informed source who recently listened to the complaints of the president.

Meanwhile president Morsi is being pressured by the Brotherhood's leadership, according to close aides, to part way with Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, though the president likes both the performance and attitude of Qandil. Unfortunately for the president, Qandil, the aides say, has fallen out of favour with the leadership of the Brotherhood despite his attempts to secure their consent, including making more than one visit to the supreme guide and consistently seeking consultations with leading figures of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the organisaiton.

Meanwhile, the minister of finance Momtaz El-Saeed is said by Cabinet sources to want to go and, to further complicate matters, Morsi is facing pressure from the Guidance Bureau to pick one of two economists from the Brotherhood as his replacement in a Cabinet reshuffle (that he is also pressured by the leadership of his group to execute before parliamentary elections due in around three months).

“He was very offended by criticism he was subjected to following a confused declaration of price rises,” said an independent source who recently met with El-Saeed.

Two weeks ago, the government had announced raises in the prices of 50 commodities, including fertilisers, which would automatically increase the price of food products, only to have the presidency a few hours later say that the decision was suspended pending “societal debate on the matter.”

No formal decree was issued suspending the decision, further confusing the market.

Morsi had been informed by his prime minister of the announced raises and had approved them before he received what was described as a harsh phone call from the Guidance Bureau criticising the timing of announcing price hikes - a few days ahead of a referendum on a constitution which Islamist political parties hoped to win popular support for.

To save face for the presidency, several FJP economists — including two who are soliciting the post of minister of finance — launched a scathing attack against the minister of finance, blaming him for the blunder.

The minister of finance is not the only minister that Ahram Online sources suggest is keen to quit. Some four other Cabinet members have expressed a similar wish to be relieved of their responsibilities.

“The ship is cracking, but neither the president nor the Muslim Brotherhood wants to admit it, and are thus not acting to fix the cracks,” said an independent economic source.

According to this source, whether Morsi and the Guidance Brueau likes it or not, economic hardship is heading Egypt’s way, and fast.

“This coming summer would be for sure the summer of discontent. Scorn would not just be about increased prices of commodities and services, but also about declining quality of services and maybe scarcity in some commodities,” the same source said.

“We are expecting to see electricity and water outages that would last for long hours in Cairo and the big cities. The only way to help save the situation is to adopt very fast an effective economic scheme. But this cannot be done if the Muslim Brotherhood continues to manipulate power,” said a retired source at the finance ministry.

“It looks like they think they can fix the situation. But what we have seen so far suggests that they are only making things worse. If they cointune with the same performance they will completely wreck the boat,” the source added.

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