Egypt’s Islamic Leader Turns to Twitter as Unrest Mounts

President Mohamed Mursi, in an unprecedented step by an Egyptian leader, invited his country to an unfettered give-and-take, turning to Twitter to try to build a bridge with youths unhappy with his government.

Mursi’s office gave Egyptians a 30-minute window to pose direct questions to him -- an offer that netted a slew of complaints, compliments, advice and more than a few pointed jabs at the way he and his government are running the country.

In a series of posts today, the Egyptian leader addressed a range of questions, stressing it was now the time to “work and to unite Egypt’s sons, not open wounds.”

Mursi’s comments on his official Twitter account marked his latest push to contain growing polarization in the country. The man who billed himself, upon his election in June, as a leader for all Egyptians has come under mounting fire from youth activists and other critics frustrated that their lives haven’t improved since the 2011 revolution.

Some accuse him of promoting the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood that fielded him for office at their expense.

That theme came through in the Twitter talk.

“Which is more important to you, Egypt or the Brotherhood?” posted @ElSayedSalih.

Mired in Turmoil

Since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011, Egypt has been mired in turmoil, relying on aid from allies to stem the plunge in foreign reserves, which are more than 60 percent below December 2010 levels. The government is trying to secure a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan and the currency has plunged against the dollar, stoking inflationary fears.

Mursi, responding to a question about inflation and increasing dollar costs, said the government has an economic plan, although exchange rate stability needs “some patience and a lot of work.”

The question-and answer session on Twitter was remarkable in Egypt for its candor. Mursi has pledged to uphold freedoms, though rights groups have accused him of targeting the media. His government recently provoked an uproar by ordering the arrest of a popular satirist for allegedly insulting him and Islam.

Complaints Dropped

Yesterday, the president’s office said he ordered his legal staff to drop its complaints against journalists accused of publishing rumors. Cases in criminal court filed by individuals weren’t covered by the decree.

Not all the comments on Twitter addressed momentous matters of state. One person asked whether he and his wife had agreed on what kind of ceramic floor tiles to use and which version of the “Planet of the Apes” films he watched. Mursi, in an interview with Time magazine, had mentioned the film.

The Egyptian leader told his audience he was working “night and day” on the rolling blackouts that have been plaguing Egypt well before the sweltering summer months, as a result of fuel shortages.

His audience wasn’t left wanting.

“OK, so if the power goes out at 9, what should we do, or has Your Excellency issued instructions that the lights stay on from 9 to 9:30,” asked Mohammed Hameed, in a post on Mursi’s official Facebook page.