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Poverty tops Egypt's presidential agenda

June 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM

CAIRO, June 15 (UPI) -- The candidates in this weekend's presidential runoff election in Egypt hit the homestretch Friday vowing to tackle the poor economy.

The Cairo government estimates nearly 25 percent of Egypt's 85 million people live below the poverty level, making it a high-priority for the fledgling democracy, IRIN, the United Nations' humanitarian news service, reported.

The situation has not been lost on the two candidates in the Saturday-Sunday voting -- Islamist Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafiq, who was prime minister under now-deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

IRIN said the two candidates offer differing approaches to fighting poverty, although economists see both plans as a bit vague on details.

"Neither candidate tells us how he will reduce poverty in definite terms," economic analyst Maged Aly told IRIN. "I think it will take the next president a long time to reduce poverty in a noticeable manner and this might go beyond their presidential term."

Shafiq has proposed direct assistance to the poor in the form of pensions and increased services in impoverished neighborhoods. Egyptian industries would stop receiving subsidized energy.

Morsi has his eye on funds from various Muslim charities, which would be used for job-training and baseline support to help the chronically unemployed get on their feet. "I do not want to give people a fish, but want to teach them how to fish," he said in a recent television interview.

IRIN said whoever is elected will also have the potential of aid from the United States to help meet budget requirements, although the new president will have to deal with Washington in order to secure that assistance.

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