Too many complaints
Hundreds of petitioners have stormed complaint offices set up on the instructions of newly elected President Mohamed Mursi, reports Reem Leila
If newly elected president Mohamed Mursi does not properly comprehend the size of the responsibilities that have been laid on his shoulders, a glimpse out of the window of the presidential palace will allow him to see the number of people waiting for him to solve their problems.
Unemployed citizens seeking job opportunities, homeless people asking for an apartment, and people asking for compensation from the government or clemency for an imprisoned kinsman, all these and more crowded around the gates of the presidential palace this week seeking solutions to their plight.
In response, Mursi ordered the creation of two Boards of Grievances (Diwan Al-Mazalem) to examine the complaints and petitions, one at Abdeen Palace in downtown Cairo and the other at the Qasr Al-Qubba Palace in Heliopolis. A third office will soon be established in New Cairo.
According to presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, similar offices will be set up in all the country's governorates to work on helping to solve people's problems. A website will be created under the name of the presidential palace so that people can send in their complaints instead of going to the offices in person.
"Older people and those suffering from physical disabilities will benefit from the website," Ali said.
On its first working day, the Boards of Grievances received more than 3,000 complaints from people all over the country, and, while Mursi has promised petitioners speedy solutions to their problems, little has yet happened. On a tour by Al-Ahram Weekly to both complaints offices it was found that petitioners felt that no one was available to respond to them.
One petitioner, Ali Mohamed, 23, was demanding compensation for a permanent eye injury sustained during the 25 January Revolution that has hindered him from working in his job of repairing watches and clocks.
"When the president announced the creation of this office, I submitted a complaint at the Abdeen office. But all they did was to give me a piece of paper with a phone number on it to follow up the complaint. Whenever I call this number, no one picks up the phone. I wonder if they ever will," Mohamed said.
Sixty-four-year-old Mohsen Bayoumi said he had not been compensated for a war injury, even though he had filed a suit against the army. "I went to the Abdeen office as it is close to my house and submitted my complaint. In return, I received a piece of paper with a serial number and phone number on it that nobody answers. I am beginning to wonder if it is a working number," Bayoumi said.
Bayoumi went on the day the office opened its doors to the public on 7 July. He returned two days later to ask after his complaint and whether the phone number was working or not.
According to a member of staff at the office, speaking on condition of anonymity, petitioners should call the number several times as there are 10 lines. "There is a huge pressure on the lines, and people must be patient," he added.
According to Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science at Port Said University, Mursi's popular mandate, which has raised many people's hopes, could be threatened if nothing happens to solve people's problems.
"The success of this initiative depends on how good the logistics are behind it," he said. "The organisation of the offices does not matter. What will be a measure of their success is whether or not they are able to solve people's problems."
Zahran said that a special budget should be given to the offices and that they should be monitored in order to ensure their efficiency. There should also be some kind of guarantee of the amount of time it will take, perhaps two months, to deal with people's problems.
At the Qasr Al-Qubba office, the situation was not much different. Nadra Ibrahim, a 50-year-old widow, was asking for an apartment to live in with her five children. "The building which I used to live in collapsed three years ago and since then I have been homeless," Ibrahim said.
"I have been living in a shack which I built for myself with the help of other people," she added, saying that she had come to the office after spending three nights protesting in front of the presidential palace in Heliopolis.
After Ibrahim had delivered her complaint to the member of staff, she was a given a piece of paper with a serial number and a phone number. "All three numbers are either busy all the time or ring and no one picks up the phone," she said. "If my problem isn't solved, I will return to the presidential palace and stay there until I get a place to live with my children."
Nabila El-Ibrashi, secretary-general of the Arab Women Organisation, an NGO, said that Mursi's initiative was designed to help people solve ongoing problems. The idea was adopted from the Gulf countries, which "all have certain bodies responsible for solving people's problems," she said.
Most of the complaints are either from people who are jobless and are seeking a job opportunity or from people asking for salary raises. More than 40 per cent of Egypt's population lives under the poverty line on earnings of less than $2 per day.
Last year's uprising was determined at least in part by the feeling that things could hardly get worse for much of the population. However, in fact they have, and today the economy is floundering and unemployment is escalating due to the political mayhem that has hit foreign investment and tourism.
State finances are stretched, and this will make it difficult for Mursi to spend his way to popularity.
Nevertheless, many of those depositing complaints this week were disappointed at the apparent slackness in dealing with their petitions, and they hope that Mursi will be able to turn on the taps and provide them with solutions.
Hoda Othman, a 43-year-old accountant asking at the Qasr Al-Qubba office for a bed for her husband at a government hospital intensive care unit, said that the new structure should be given time to find its feet.
"We should give them time to solve our problems. However, some problems won't bear postponement," she said. "We should be more patient, and they should speed the process of solving complaints."
However, some petitioners have already begun to lose patience and have returned to the presidential palace and begun shouting at police preventing them from entering it.
"Open the gates! We want to meet the president! Open the gates," they cried.