The Associated Press
CAIRO — The quarrel on a bridge spanning the Nile went like this.
A driver stops to gawk at protesters crowding the sidewalks along the bridge. Traffic is snarled. Tempers flare and car horns blare. A well-dressed man jumps out of his car to berate the driver.
"Move! Move! I'm fed up with waiting for you to move!" he screams.
The driver gets out of his car and yells back some choice insults, repeatedly jabbing the first man in the chest. As a crowd forms and voices rise higher, the men are pulled apart. Shirts are straightened, shoulders patted in an attempt to soothe.
"If you want to watch, why don't you just park somewhere and join them," the first man yells. Then, as he hops back into his car, he barks — as much to the protesters as the other motorist — "Some of us are trying to work. We can't keep living like this."
Abdel-Meguid Omar, who helped break up the fight, looks around him, shrugs and sums up the scene with the sarcasm and humor for which Egyptians have long been famous: "So, this is democracy..."
The man's complaint over the continuing disruption of daily life reflects a growing frustration amid the optimism that was the soundtrack for Egypt's revolution since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Egyptians are now looking to a future in which they hope, for the first time in decades, to chart their own course. With the floodgates open, Egyptians are taking to the streets to press for long-pent-up demands — more housing, better pay, lower prices. Expectations are soaring, even as they tell themselves not everything can be solved at once.
But the turmoil, fueled in part by the continuing protests, is making it harder to address the demands. Revenue from tourism, worker remittances and foreign investment plunged sharply after the revolution, while manufacturing and productivity were hard hit. Many complain that their lives are worse off economically than under Mubarak, increasing the pressure for immediate change.
In a make-or-break year, Egypt's transitional government is trying to show it can make at least some tangible improvements. Officials have approved the new budget for fiscal 2011-2012, a populist behemoth of welfare and development programs. The cash-strapped government is relying on new international aid from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States and other countries who say they want to help Egypt make a transition to democracy.
But many Egyptians worry even that won't be enough to meet the burgeoning hopes of the population. The need to see economic progress right now could swamp an already fragile boat, as Egypt also tries to work out its political turmoil.
"Everyone wants what they want now. No one is willing to wait," said clothing store clerk Mansour Hamed, sipping a coffee at a roadside cafe while others around him nodded in agreement. "That's not how to build a country."
The complaints are not lost on the current government and the country's military rulers.
Finance Minister Samir Radwan, who by virtue of his post has become one of the most visible figures in the transitional government, told reporters recently that the revolution had created a "new atmosphere" in the country and that, without doubt, "there are difficulties."
Weeks before the uprising, the former regime was touting economic growth projections of 5.8 percent for this fiscal year ending in June and 6 percent for the year after. Since then, GDP growth for this fiscal year has been slashed to as low as 1 percent by some estimates, with a government forecast of 3 percent next year.
The plunge in growth only worsens problems that long festered under Mubarak's rule.
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