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Egypt's New Leader Struggles To Fulfill Big Promises

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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 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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