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Egypt’s Mursi to Outline State Priorities as Upper House Meets

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Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi is likely to outline government priorities in a speech today before parliament’s newly empowered upper house meets amid rifts between his Islamist backers and largely secular opposition.

Mursi will identify economic and political priorities, including those on which the legislature should focus, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali was quoted as saying on the Facebook page of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. The president will discuss security and steps to restore stability and revive production, Al-Ahram newspaper said today.

Egypt has faced growing tension in the past month as a vote on a new constitution sparked clashes between Mursi’s opponents and his Islamist backers. The upper house, including 90 new members sworn in on Dec. 26 following a divisive vote on the charter, will assume temporary legislative powers until parliamentary elections, expected to start in two months. The Shura Council, whose about 90 members were chosen by Mursi, had until now been a consultative entity.

Mursi’s speech, his first before parliament since his June election, comes as the president has “lost a lot of his legitimacy,” Khalil al-Anani, a political analyst at the U.K.’s Durham University, said by phone. Mursi hasn’t provided “any real concessions to pacify the opposition or push the process of democratization forward,” he said.

Divisions

Mursi, a U.S.-trained engineer who was fielded for the presidency by the Muslim Brotherhood, faced criticism for pushing ahead with a constitutional referendum even as groups comprising secularists, minority Christians and youth activists expressed concern over the charter’s contents. Two of Mursi’s Cabinet ministers resigned earlier this week amid the turmoil.

The constitution passed with 64 percent of the vote, although almost 70 percent of those eligible refrained from casting their ballots. The charter’s supporters argue its passage will help get the economy back on track, while opponents say it further enshrines Islamic law at the expense of certain freedoms and doesn’t broadly represent the nation’s interests.

Political unrest prompted Standard and Poor’s on Dec. 24 to push Egypt’s credit rating deeper into junk status. The Egyptian pound slid to an eight-year low against the dollar three days later. Egypt has drawn down almost 60 percent of its foreign reserves since the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and the government has struggled to pry economic growth from last year’s 19-year low.

The country this month asked the International Monetary Fund to delay a $4.8 billion loan agreement, originally planned for this month, and has said it would initiate social dialog on planned tax increases. Fitch Ratings said on Dec. 27 it would become “more concerned” about dwindling foreign reserves if the deal is delayed beyond January.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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