Khalil Hamra, Associated Press
CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has given himself high grades on his handling of some of the nation's pressing problems, spending much of a nearly two-hour speech late Saturday talking in painstaking detail about fuel, trash and bread, while sidestepping key issues in the nation's transition to democratic rule.
But the speech in many ways was also as much about style as it was about substance, and the 61-year-old Morsi, the first freely elected president in Egypt's history, used his address to project the image of an energetic leader in touch with the needs of the people. That appeared aimed at drawing a sharp contrast with his 83-year-old predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who was widely perceived in the waning years of his long rule as out of touch with reality.
Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest and best-organized political group, made a slew of promises during his campaign, vowing to end Egypt's fuel shortages, improve the quality of the heavily subsidized bread, check surging crime, clean the streets of trash and ease traffic congestion.
Speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands in Cairo at Egypt's largest sports stadium, Morsi claimed that scientific methods used to gauge progress on the five issues gave him a success rate of 80 percent on bread, 60 percent on traffic, 40 percent on garbage collection, 85 percent on fuel and 70 percent on security.
But he also sought to stress the magnitude of the challenges he faces, and hit back at critics who charge that he was spending too much money and time traveling abroad and that his habit of offering Friday prayers at a different mosque every week was costly and disrupted traffic on what is supposed to be the quietest day of the week.
He said his nine foreign trips to date — Saudi Arabia (twice), China, Iran, Belgium, Ethiopia, Turkey, the United States and Italy — secured for Egypt pledges of billions of dollars of investment and monetary aid and that his Friday prayers, which entails the deployment of hundreds of policemen and troops, were cost free.
"I am still living in a rented apartment," he said to bolster his argument that he was not abusing his authority. "If anyone sees me driving a new car that is not owned by the state should report it."
"They are trying to find a hole in a seamless white dress," he said of his critics. "We have a glorious future ahead of us."
But his speech touched only in passing on the simmering dispute over the drafting of a new constitution. Liberals, women and minority Christians say the process has been hijacked by Morsi's fellow Islamists. He also did not touch on the restrictions that critics say have been placed on freedom of expression in the three months since he took office and the return of abuses by the police — documented by human rights groups.
Morsi also offered no vision for the future of the nation, where nearly half of its estimated 83 million people live below or just above the poverty line. He declared himself married to the fight against corruption, but offered no ways to improve basic services such as medical care, education or housing for the poor.
The president's critics remained unimpressed, by both the speech and the successes he touted in it.
"He spoke about the importance of reducing energy subsidies but didn't tell us how he plans to do so. He promised to eradicate the former regime's corruption, but didn't say how he will prevent corruption in the future," Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a former lawmaker for a social democratic party, wrote in a commentary on his Facebook page.
"The speech was spirited and designed to reflect strength, popular support and to mobilize public opinion behind the president. ... But in terms of substance, if offered nothing memorable."
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