November 17, 2019

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  • Knocking on the president’s door

    One of the presidential palaces in Heliopolis (Photo by Dalia Rabie)

    BY HEBA HESHAM Cairo: Once recognized as the place where the president receives foreign and official delegations, Egypt’s luxurious presidential palaces are now the public’s complaints offices, a place where Egyptians submit their personal requests. But many say this service is doing little to address their grievances.

    Shortly after he took office, President Mohamed Morsi ordered the establishment of the so-called Grievances Office, with branches in Al-Arouba and Abdeen’s palaces, to receive the complaints of citizens and work on swiftly finding solutions. This came after a number of protests and sit-ins were organized in front of the palaces, once highly restricted areas.

    Although people are able to submit their complaints, they say they are unlikely to reach the president.

    “The employees who receive our complaints give us an imaginary phone number to contact them on within 10 days of submitting the complaint, but no one picks up the phone,” said Mohamed Abdo, a 45-year-old government employee, who cannot afford to get married and is yet to find a suitable apartment.

    “They’re exploiting people’s pain. These calls cost LE 3 a minute, and you only get a recorded message that asks you to hold for someone to answer and we lose a lot of money while waiting.

    “But waiting is the only thing we can do instead of taking violent action against officials,” said Mohamed Ali Shafie, a man in his 40s who obtained more than one court verdict to retrieve stolen property, rulings which he claims authorities refuse to implement.

    Yasser Mahmoud, who suffers a physical disability, said it is much cheaper to go submit a new complaint every day than to call this number.

    Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, however, said that that presidency’s Grievances Office has received 5,277 phone calls on the first day and 6,080 on the second day asserting that callers are only charged the normal fee. The Grievances Office has received 27,252 complaints so far, he added.

    The spokesman said that these complaints are dealt with through more than 42 governmental entities, pointing out that only 30 percent of the complaints have been deemed “valid”. These include job and housing requests, state-sponsored medical treatment complaints against transgressions by specific entities.

    According to Ali, more than 90 have been employed to answer calls on the hotline through which people submit complaints. Complaints are addressed in less than a week, except for those pertaining to judicial disputes.

    Still, complainants claim that the hotline is not the only obstacle they face.

    Shafie alleged that the employees who receive the complaints are not helpful, belong to the counter-revolution, and were beneficiaries of the toppled regime.

    “They mock us saying that they are counting the days until Morsi to leaves office,” he said.

    Some disgruntled citizens say that when they follow up on their complaints, the operators tell them that their complaints were never submitted Frustration builds as they have to repeatedly submit the same complaint.

    “One of the employees advised me to stop because the complaints are all thrown in the garbage,” Mahmoud claimed. “The only action that grabs their attention is cutting off the roads. We [disabled protesters] once blocked the road for three minutes, only to find four central security vehicles surrounding us. High ranking officers talked to us calmly and convinced us to reopen the road, promising that our complaints would be considered.”

    While people who submit complaints acknowledge that this is not the best way to go about it, they say they have no other option since that their deteriorating conditions have reached a stalemate.

    “There is nothing else we can do other than cling on to any ray of hope. We have to knock on all the doors so that we don’t feel that it is our fault or that there is something that we did not do,” Mahmoud said.

    Abdallah Fathy, a teacher who wants to work for a public school to guarantee job security, said that he does not want to be exploited and demanded fair compensation for his work.

    “We are not asking for a huge bank account or to live in villas like other people. We only want an apartment to settle in instead of living on the streets or intruding on our relatives,” said El-Yamani Abdel Mohsen, a father of six.

    “I am overcome by grief when I walk by the huge villas and land that were illegally seized by businessmen and rich people while I don’t have a room to live in.”

    Nonetheless, most complainants say they believe in Morsi and his promises of prosperity.

    However, they don’t see conditions changing as long as those surrounding him are not replaced by honest advisers and employees who want to serve the people, not the interests of the remnants of the toppled regime. –The Egypt Monocle

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