Muslim Brotherhood Struggles To Live Up To Campaign Promises

The streets of Cairo are relatively quiet now — protests have died out and a political impasse is settling in. The embattled Egyptian president is facing a groundswell of frustration as people ask about the promises of revolutionary reform and when will they see the change in their own lives. Summer power cuts are increasing, price hikes continue and a planned election for parliament still has no date. But people's frustration with President Mohammed Morsi doesn't mean they have faith in a divided and weak opposition.

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Egypt is settling in for what looks to be a hot and painful summer with power cuts, price hikes and political stagnation. All that could spark renewed protests against President Mohammed Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptians who believed in the promise of revolutionary reform are frustrated.

As NPR's Leila Fadel reports, they find themselves stuck between an Islamist government still figuring out how to lead and a weak and divided opposition.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Essam el Haddad sits in his office at the presidential palace. As a former dissident during the Hosni Mubarak era, becoming a top advisor to the president was a distant dream. But now that he is, he's seeing firsthand the challenges of leading a mostly impoverished nation of more than 80 million people. They want jobs, education and food to feed their families. And they want it yesterday.

ESSAM EL HADDAD: People's expectations, this is really very difficult. They are legitimate demands. They want things which they are entitled to. But you feel that you can't do it with their timeframe. You need more time to do this. This is huge challenge, actually.

FADEL: For more than 80 years, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood agitated for power. And now that they have it, they find themselves facing many of the same accusations they once leveled against the Mubarak regime: cronyism, tampering with the judiciary, punishing dissent. Many Egyptians complain President Morsi has so far failed to fulfill his campaign promises, such as reforming the security sector and making economic improvements for the average Egyptian.

Haddad blames the discontent on outsized expectations and external forces, and insists the president is doing the best he can.

HADDAD: You cannot fix a 30 or 60 years old corruptive system, dictatorship, in two or three years. It had never happened. But you can let the people be aware that there are problems and these problems needs time to be fixed. And that's what we're trying to do.

FADEL: As Haddad sees it, one of the biggest obstacles are the Mubarak-era judges who remain in place - a constant thorn in the side of the Islamists. Egyptians elected an Islamist-dominated parliament, the courts dissolved it. The parliament put together a body to write the constitution, a court ruled that body invalid twice.

While human rights groups and political dissidents are focused on the battles over judicial reform and freedom of expression, ordinary Egyptians feel the political tug of war on their pocketbooks.

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FADEL: And outside the palace, the frustrations are real.

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FADEL: Here in Sayeda Aisha Square in eastern Cairo, people know they're in for a tough summer, with food and fuel price hikes and rolling power blackouts affecting millions of people.

AHMED YEHIA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Ahmed Yehia sells peaches from a wooden cart.

YEHIA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: People are hungry, he says. It would be better if Morsi were in charge of a garbage can instead of a country.

Such frustration is common on Egypt's streets these days. But criticism of the president doesn't necessarily equate to praise for the opposition. The political forces working against Morsi don't seem to have a plan and Egyptians are just as frustrated with them. To capitalize on the discontent, a group of young people banded together for a campaign called Tamarrod, or Rebellion. The idea: To collect 15 million signatures by June 30th and push for a no-confidence vote in Morsi.

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FADEL: Young volunteers take to the streets and gather signatures, like on this day in Tahrir Square. But even if they meet their goal of 15 million signatures, legally they have no recourse to force a no-confidence vote in the elected president. Cynics snidely refer to it as The Rebellion to Nowhere, one more opposition initiative aimed at changing the past rather than mobilizing for a future election.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: You have people that are feeling very depressed that they are not at least able to get the basic needs. You have the middle-class and upper-middle-class who concerned about their basic political freedoms. And you have a government and a president that, in my view, are unable to govern.

FADEL: That's Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency who returned to Egypt during the 2011 uprising. Now he is co-leader of the opposition National Salvation Front.

ElBaradei has faced his share of criticism. He's refused to meet with the government or the president. He says he can't because there is no trust. He wants to see new faces and guarantees of a free election before the opposition will seek compromise.

ELBARADEI: We will never allow ourselves to be part of a decor, where they will say here is the opposition working with us, you know, and therefore here is a good functioning democracy.

FADEL: ElBaradei says the mismanagement, the political polarization, the economic hardships, all of it's the Brotherhood's fault. They're in power, he says, and they're ruling alone.

But neither ElBaradei nor his allies in the opposition seem to offer any remedies. In the new Egypt, political challenges are to be resolved at the ballot box, but the opposition group hasn't decided whether it will participate in the next election, an election that still has no date.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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