No longer off limits: Presidential palace becomes a new space of protest

Shortly before being sworn in, President Mohamed Morsy professed a desire to keep in touch with the demands of the people, even after he entered the presidential palace.

“My door is open to all citizens, and I am in constant contact with you,” he said, in a rousing speech in Tahrir Square.
Thousands appear to have taken Morsy’s message literally.
Under the heat of Cairo’s blazing summer sun, protesters congregated around the presidential palace in the affluent Heliopolis neighborhood. The site was once a highly militarized zone, which regular passers-by were barely allowed to look at.
But since Morsy he took office on 30 June, the presidential palace has been besieged by protesters. Ceramics and tile factory workers, tax collectors, the disabled and people with special needs, law graduates, prisoners’ families, environmental activists and a host of others have taken their grievances to the president’s doorstep.
Today, thousands pin their hopes on Morsy. It is a clear indication of how much the president, in a state that is striving to be modernized and institutions-based, remains perceived as the sole savior.
Morsy and his staff, meanwhile, are still figuring out how to deal with the endless stream of demands coming their way.
Acting presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali said on 4 July that Morsy ordered the establishment of a “bureau of appeals” entrusted with collecting popular complaints from citizens nationwide.
Ali said three of these bureaus have been established in Cairo at the presidential palaces in Heliopolis, Abdeen and Qasr al-Qubba, to be followed by additional ones across the country.
To streamline the complaint procedures, Ali said an official website for the presidency would be launched during the second week of July through which citizens can submit complaints. The site is still under construction.
Morsy has made efforts to meet some protesters’ demands.
Last week, more than a thousand workers from Ceramica Cleopatra’s two companies in 10th of Ramadan City and Ain Sokhna protested against their employer, Mohamed Abul Enein, saying he failed to pay their wages and overdue profit-sharing payments, and fired workers. A delegation of trade unionists from the two companies presented their demands to the president and his staff on 2 July.
“I had the honor of personally meeting with his Excellency President Morsy and his staff for half an hour last week,” said Mokhtar Abdel Salam, a worker who had been fired and the president of the local union for the 10th of Ramadan Company. “The president and his staff have been actively seeking to resolve our disputes with Abul Enein.”
The ceramics workers received reassurances from the presidential palace that their grievances would be addressed within 48 hours. However, Abdel Salam acknowledged that talk of a presidential decree to establish a caretaker committee for the administration of Ceramica Cleopatra factories failed to materialize.
Morsy is left hamstrung between the huge number of complaints directed at him and his inevitable inability to address them all. In addition to dealing with various grievances, the president is currently engaged in a power struggle with the military over the future of Parliament, the constitution and the division of power between civilian forces and the military.
Hassan al-Brince, a leading Brotherhood member who denounced the protests in front of Orouba Palace as “a conspiracy to bring down President Mohamed Morsy,” also said the protests “are intended to show that Morsy is incapable of meeting demands.” He said counter-revolutionary agents were paying protesters to create chaos in front the presidential palace.
Whether Brince is right about the cause of the protests, he is likely correct in his analysis of how satisfied people will be with Morsy’s ability to get them their jobs returned or contracts renegotiated. The expectations from the president are ripe, and certainly higher than before, with Morsy priding himself on being the president of the revolution.
Some protesters near the palace took advantage of their new-found freedom at the presidential palace by shouting, “Inzel ya Morsyyyy” (Come down Morsy), a shout unlikely to have been heard during Mubarak’s rule.
For Adel Abdel Khaleq, a pharmacist standing outside the protests at Morsy’s palace, the difference is radical.
“During the days of Hosni [Mubarak], nobody could even walk past the presidential palace,” said Abdel Khaleq. “Nowadays, protesters are surrounding the palace, even climbing its walls.”
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

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