* Restive Nile Delta town tense as Sunday protests near
* Mursi critics cite broken promises, economic failure
By Tom Perry and Asma Alsharif
EL-MAHALLA EL-KUBRA, Egypt, June 25 Fuel is in
short supply in El-Mahalla El-Kubra. So is patience.
Egyptian riot police marshal motorists who can spend much of
the day in line. While some drivers blame each other and fights
are common, most in the industrial city agree on the underlying
cause: President Mohamed Mursi.
"The situation has been terrible since the moment Mursi took
power," said Mohamed Ismail, 58, who had been waiting for seven
hours to fill his truck with diesel. "May God destroy his
house," chips in a passerby - a refrain heard repeatedly in
chaotic scenes that have become a feature of daily life.
Long one of Egypt's most restive cities, Mahalla is tense
once again. Its disgruntled residents cite energy shortages,
economic stagnation, broken promises and lax security as reasons
why the Muslim Brotherhood president must be removed from power
by demonstrations which are to due build up from Friday to the
main day of protest on Sunday.
One year into Mursi's term, some of the complaints might
sound familiar to democratically elected leaders elsewhere. But
this is Egypt, and Mursi faces an additional challenge: the
revolutionary spirit still simmering nearly two and half years
after Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
That is putting Mursi, his Islamist backers and the
influential military on edge. The army, trying stay neutral, has
called for the rival political camps to reach a consensus,
warning it will intervene if conflict ensues.
Outsiders, including the United States which helps fund the
military in this pivotal Arab state, are looking on warily.
In Mahalla, where protesters defied Mubarak repeatedly in
the years leading to the 2011 uprising, workers and activists
appear confident that these are Mursi's last days in office.
"We will go out every day until we remove him," said Jihan
Melawi, 29, one of several hundred workers who streamed out of
the city's biggest textile factory on Tuesday to march against
Mursi. "Out! Out! Out!" they chanted.
Anger has spilled into violence. The entrance to the Muslim
Brotherhood's local party office was firebombed this week.
The grievances go beyond the economy. Mursi's decision to
appoint a member of his group as the provincial governor set off
clashes in which a dozen people were injured. The complaint was
that this was part of a Brotherhood grab for permanent power.
The Brotherhood, a banned group at the time of the 2011
uprising, derides talk of a looming revolution. Calls for a mass
rally to unseat Mursi have a familiar ring. "This will be the
25th, and it will not be the last," said Mamdouh al-Muneir, a
spokesman for the movement's Freedom and Justice Party.
The fuel station queue of 100 vehicles that snakes past his
office is caused by corruption, he says. The state allocates
more than enough fuel to the city, but heavily subsidised diesel
and gasoline are being diverted and sold into the black market.
"It is all a conspiracy to create a crisis," he said,
blaming the racket on "feloul", a pejorative word for Mubarak
loyalists. Feeling ever more embattled, the Brotherhood has
started applying the term widely to its opponents.
Muneir listed other problems too: inaction by a police force
unwilling to help restore law and order, and what he described
as sabotage by some state officials: "Most citizens understand
that the challenges need time," he said.
Mahalla, which lies in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, had
long been a stronghold of Brotherhood support. Mursi launched
his presidential election campaign from the city's sports
stadium last year. But afterwards more local residents voted for
Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, than for Mursi,
pointing to the group's faltering political fortunes.
Many of the problems afflicting Egyptians - fuel shortages
and lax policing, for example - were a feature of the 18 months
of army-led rule before Mursi's election. But today, the focus
is on the Brotherhood's failure to fix them.
"We had hope, but now I regret voting for them because of
the promises that were not met," said Ahmed Helmi, 38, a worker
at a Mahalla textile factory. "We will go out on June 30 to find
a solution for this farce. The first priorities are income and
security: we can't go out without fear of getting mugged."
The factory where he works, which makes towels for export,
is suffering from the energy shortages that are hitting the
economy more widely. Its owner, Ezzat al-Qalini, grumbles that
he can't get enough diesel to run his dyeing machines, while
power cuts are hitting output and undoing any good that might
have come from the Egyptian pound's collapse to a record low.
He proudly showed off a stairwell covered with
anti-Brotherhood graffiti. He is planning to give his 150
employees paid leave to take part in the protests come Sunday.
"We are going out and we will remove Mursi," said Qalini,
who voted for Shafik, a retired general, in last year's
Textile firms are among Egypt's biggest industrial
employers, yet more than 50 percent of their capacity is idle,
said Ahmed al-Sharawi, an industry leader from Mahalla, where
around half a million people work in the sector.
Output has suffered because of uncontrolled smuggling from
Libya, he said, faulting the Mursi government's failure to
confront the problem or produce any cogent policies to revive
the sector: "They are amateurs, busy with things other than the
economy," he said. "They're busy securing themselves in power."