‘Open door’ draws aggrieved to Egypt president palace


Hundreds of Egyptians have been making their way to the presidential palace in Cairo to air their grievances and demand solutions directly from newly-elected President Mohamed Mursi.

For days they have flocked to the palace in the upmarket neighborhood of Heliopolis after Mursi, who was sworn in as Egypt’s first civilian president on Saturday, said his doors would be open to all Egyptians.

A former official with the Muslim Brotherhood, Mursi has tried to present an image of an ordinary and approachable president.

Members of his staff have even allowed protesters inside the building to present their demands, an unprecedented move for a country where layers of security and bureaucracy have always stood between a citizen and the president.

Shehata Etman, who worked at the Pirelli tire factory in Alexandria, said he was forced to take early retirement and was not paid what he was due, and now wants Mursi to solve the problem.

“We protested at the factory for two years; no one listened. We protested at the Italian embassy; no one listened. So we decided to come straight to the president. Maybe he can do something,” Etman told AFP.

Workers from cement and textile factories wanting permanent contracts or better working conditions chanted and held up banners while activists demanding the release of political detainees organized a news conference outside the palace.

One protester scaled an ornate iron door of the palace, trying to talk security into letting him in.

Several women pushed their way towards a small door trying to squeeze through the door and into the building, as flustered security officers tried to hold them back.

The scene would have been unimaginable under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, whose twitchy security apparatus would not have let anyone near the place.

On Wednesday afternoon, around 50 teachers at a government school who had been demonstrating for full-time contracts that would provide them with benefits, heard the news that the president had approved their demands.

“Mursi, you man of religion, thank you, thank you for the employment!” the ecstatic workers chanted.

“The people know the way to the palace,” read a bold headline in the state-owned daily Al-Ahram.

“One of the achievements of the January 25 (2011) revolution, is that it freed Egyptians of fear, fear of authority,” said the paper.

“Who would have dared under the former oppressive security regime to approach the doors of the presidential palace or complain to “his excellency”.”

“The palace protests end the era of the square,” wrote the independent daily al-Tahrir, in reference to Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the rallies that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February last year.