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Morsi battles to prove he can revive Egypt's economy

Tensions over role of Muslim Brotherhood's reform plan are preventing solutions to revive the country's dysfunctional economy.

CAIRO // Propelled into power by voters who believe political Islam would reform Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi is struggling to prove that the Freedom and Justice party's plans can revive the country's dysfunctional economy.

Mr Morsi's election campaign promised to provide solutions to economic problems and improve Egypt's creaking infrastructure.

But the Muslim Brotherhood's reform plan - dubbed the "Renaissance Project" and led by Khairat Al Shater, the group's original choice of presidential candidate - is largely pursuing its efforts in parallel to the government rather from within it. That the plan is being pursued on two tracks reflects the tension between Mr Morsi and Mr Al Shater, whose candidacy was disqualified by the electoral commission, as well as a difference of opinion between the Brotherhood and the new cabinet.

Gehad El Haddad, one of the top five members of the Renaissance Project's think tank, said the group had to reconsider its approach after its ideas were largely rejected by the Egyptian bureaucracy. "The technocratic government has not bought totally into the project," he said. "We had to defer many of the projects we wanted to launch and house them outside the state."

He said the project's team had wanted to create a special initiative directly after Mr Morsi's election to determine where investment was needed most, but the ministries associated with the economy rebuffed them. "Many of our mega-change initiatives have been downsized," he said.

The concept of the Renaissance Project came from Mr Al Shater, who has said that he began working on it in 1996.

Only one of the top members of the project's think tank, Hussein ElQazzaz, has been named as an adviser to Mr Morsi - for "integrated development". The government of the prime minister, Hisham Qandil, has not been directed by the president to work closely with Mr Al Shater's team.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre, said the "Morsi government was not fully committed to the original vision of the Renaissance Project".

"There are only five Muslim Brotherhood ministers out of more than 30. You can't implement a partisan agenda if the vast majority of the ministers are not part of that agenda," he said.

The appointment of few Brotherhood members to the cabinet was itself a political compromise for the new president, who was facing pressure from other political groups not to impose Brotherhood members across the government. The other problem, Mr Hamid said, was that Mr Al Shater was not in a position to direct the project from within the government. Mr El Haddad, who has also served as a spokesman for the Brotherhood, said the core problem between the team behind the Renaissance Project and the government ministries was their radically different visions of how governance should work.

"The prime minister is from the bureaucracy and the ministers are sons of the bureaucracy, so they trust the old ways more than outside-change actors," he said.

"The problem is we at the think tank believe the bureaucracy is intrinsically corrupt, even if the people inside are not corrupt. The ministries come from the position that everything is right until it is proved wrong. We come from the position that everything is wrong until it's proven right."

The Renaissance Project for Consulting and Research, the official name of the think tank, has opted instead to pursue projects without involving the state, he said.

The upside, he added, was that by keeping the project in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the presidential office, it would have a "higher degree of protection from political change".

The top team at the think tank come from a range of backgrounds. Mr El Haddad has NGO experience as the former head of the Cairo office of the Clinton Climate Initiative. Mr ElQazzaz founded SKOPOS Consulting, which helps companies re-engineer their organisations to be more efficient.

The other three members of the advisory board are Ashraf Serry, a Muslim Brotherhood economist; Ahmed Deif, a policy adviser to Mr Morsi's presidential campaign; and Ahmed Soliman, a senior Brotherhood member.

They are joined by consultants such as Ihab El Fouly, an entrepreneur who created Nabdacare, a healthcare-technology start-up.

The team has largely avoided speaking in detail about their plan because they are launching a round of national dialogues in January that will bring together people from different walks of life to discuss plans for the economy, politics and "human development". A brief insight into the project was given this month by Mr ElQazzaz, who spoke at a Euromoney-sponsored conference in Cairo.

"We have an enormously ambitious vision for Egypt," he said. "We think the world is ready for new models of government ... We are not thinking in small terms, that's for sure."

bhope@thenational.ae

twitterFollow The National on @TheNationalUAE & Bradley Hope on @bradleyhope

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