Published December 09, 2015
Almost daily, armed Egyptians angry over poor services storm hospitals, beating up or menacing doctors. Others took over a governor's office to protest weeks without running water. Fabric workers shut down factories with strikes demanding better conditions.
Lawlessness, economic troubles and public frustration have been growing in Egypt for months under the country's uncertain leadership. Now, Egypt's first elected president, Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood president has taken his first step to forming his own government, but there is deep skepticism he will be able to fix anything amid a power struggle with the military.
Morsi on Tuesday designated a young, largely unknown technocrat, Irrigation and Water Minister Hesham Kandil, as his prime minister, raising criticism that the choice is not experienced or strong enough to face the country's problems.
Political fighting puts heavy limitations on the new government. The military, which ruled the country since last year's ouster of Hosni Mubarak, still holds overwhelming powers, including legislative authority. Powerful security agencies are largely out of Morsi's control, even though officially they fall under his preview. Liberal parties have refused Morsi's calls to join a unity government, saying they do not want to carry out the Brotherhood's agenda and that the Brotherhood should bear responsibility for its results.
Treading through its first experience with an elected president, the country of 82 million is deeply divided over Morsi's Islamist background. Many wrote off Kandil -- an independent in his late 40s who wears the light beard of a religious conservative -- as a lightweight with no track record. It took Morsi almost a month to name a prime minister, reflecting the difficulty of finding a stronger consensus figure.
"One would expect the choice to be someone who understands economic policies or has a proven record and achievement as a technocrat. He has neither. What he does have is a beard and he is religious," said Mahmoud Salem, a liberal activist.
Saad Emara, a leading member of the Brotherhood's political party, said that's unfair and that others should back the government but aren't doing so to undermine Morsi.
"The country is weak enough that it needs cooperation of all forces. We need to be one hand. The opposition doesn't want that. It just doesn't want an Islamist in the leading position."
Since Mubarak fell in February 2011, Egypt has had interim governments appointed by the military. The government headed by Kandil will be the first formed by an elected president. Theoretically, this is the civilian government that Egyptians hope could finally stop the country's deterioration.
Over the past year and a half, Egypt has seen a dramatic surge in crime, deadly street protests, a faltering economy and seemingly non-stop strikes. Police have abandoned many of their duties, and public services, already in bad shape under Mubarak, have further declined.
Doctors, for example, say that not a day passes without an attack on a hospital, most by people angry over lack of services.
The emergency center at Cairo's biggest public hospital al-Qasr al-Aini was shut down Thursday when men armed with knives and machetes attacked workers and guards. The men were furious after the gynecologist who delivered the baby of a female relative asked them to purchase their own blood bags for her from outside the hospital because the facility was short. The daily Al-Masry al-Youm reported the assault left three security guards in critical condition.
Some doctors in several cities shut their hospitals in protest over police failure to protect them. For three days, the emergency center at Ras el-Teen hospital in Alexandria has been closed after an angry mob beat up the sole doctor on duty and threw stones, demanding the doctor examine a relative.
"The curve and frequency of the assaults are going up," said Mona Mina, a member of the doctors' syndicate. "Patients and their families are more and more angry because of poor service, doctors can't answer, security is absent and assaults are horrendous."
Attacks began when security forces pulled from the streets during last year's uprising against Mubarak, but they have accelerated dramatically from one a month to up to four a day, she said.
"One day we will wake up on news of a murder of a doctor or nurse on the hands of patients or residents setting fire to a hospital," she said. "And you can't blame an angry citizen."
In an attempt to show action, Morsi on Tuesday asked the military police to provide protection to hospitals.
Anger is also soaring over expanding power outages and water cut-offs in some districts. In Saft el-Laban, an impoverished district of Cairo's twin city Giza, angry residents took over the governor's office Saturday. They sealed outside gates with chains and held prayers, leaving the office only on Tuesday after promises they would have water in a few hours.
Labor unrest has expanded. In Mahalla el-Kobra, the Nile Delta city that is the center of the textile industry, some 20,000 workers at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company were on strike for eight days demanding better conditions and the removal of the administration.
They suspended the action on Monday after getting an increase in bonuses and promises on further demands. But a day earlier, workers at another textile factory launched their own strike.
The grievances of Mahalla workers sparked the first mass protests against Mubarak on April 6, 2008 -- seen as a first seed of last year's revolution. Workers tore down a poster of Mubarak, an image that became an icon for the protest movement against the longtime leader. Labor uprisings were also a crucial part of the Jan. 25-Feb.11, 2011 protests that eventually brought down the president.
Scrutiny of Morsi began even before he named a new prime minister. Activists set a "Morsi Meter" to evaluate how much the president follows through on promises for his first 100 days. Morsi has begun speaking on a daily radio program during the whole month of Ramadan to lay out his vision, an unprecedented public exposure for an Egyptian president.
But policy is likely to be overshadowed by political battles. Before Morsi's inauguration on June 19, the military dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament and took on legislative powers, including approving state budget. They approved next year's before Kandil was named. The military says it will name the defense minister.
Appointing the interior minister, in charge of security forces, is an early test. It is widely believed the military and powerful security chiefs want to be responsible for picking the new minister.
Emara said he didn't think Morsi would approve of the military naming one.
"The biggest problem Egypt is facing is lawlessness. For 18 months, the military council that was in charge didn't make any progress in this file. Why?" he said.
He acknowledged Morsi faces deep resistance from security forces that once led the suppression of the Brotherhood under Mubarak. There has already been friction: A decision believed to have been negotiated by Morsi to allow Palestinians freer entry into Egypt was resisted by some in the Interior Ministry.
"For the longest time, members of the Interior Ministry were brought up to think of the Brotherhood as enemies of the nation," he said. "Now they are surprised to find that they are at the helm of power and the former regime is in jail. This is a shock that needs some time to get used to."
But the Brotherhood has few allies to help it.
Emad Gad, of the liberal Social Democratic Party, one of the secular parties created since Mubarak's fall, said many of the well-known figures suggested for prime minister refused because they felt the job would just be a vehicle to execute the Muslim Brotherhood's program.
Salem, the liberal activist better known by his blogger name Sandmonkey, has little sympathy for the idea that the Brotherhood can't fix problems without overcoming the military.
"He has full executive power in appointing the government ...This is his job, the service of the people and the protection of the population," he said. "If he wishes to engage in a political battle, the smart thing to do is to get a qualified prime minister that fits with the ambitions of the Egyptian people. Neither is happening."