CAIRO (AP) — The appointment of the Egyptian president's son to a high-paying job at a state-owned company raised accusations on Thursday of nepotism in the country where the unemployment rate hovers at 13 percent and many university graduates are out of work.
Egypt's Aviation Minister Wael el-Maadai said hiring newly elected President Mohammed Morsi's son, Omar, was justified, and dismissed accusations of nepotism. The country reeled from pervasive nepotism under the country's former autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak, who was widely believed to be grooming his son for the presidency.
El-Maadawi told the state MENA news agency that Omar Morsi, who graduated from college last year, went through regular procedures before he was hired by the state holding company for airports and aviation.
An aviation official familiar with the appointment said Omar Morsi, one of the president's five children, got the internally advertised job in a department that usually pays new hires $5,000 a month.
Another official in the company said the expected salary will be no more than $750 a month.
Still, such figured are practically unheard of for new university graduates in Egypt, where the starting salary for a government job can be as low $75. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Marina Raouf, a 23-year old who graduated last year from the same university as the president's son, said she broke out in laughter when she first heard the news.
"Morsi's son is working and I'm still jobless at home," she said. "This makes me feel that I can never dream in my country because no matter what happens — even if we get a president with our votes — he'll still prioritize his children. There will still be that quota for officials' sons."
Morsi has four sons and a daughter. One of his children works as a doctor in Saudi Arabia, while the youngest is still in high school.
When news surfaced that Omar Morsi had landed a job starting in March in the state-run holding company for airports and aviation, many activists accused government officials of favoring the president's son and likened the move to Mubarak-era practices.
Fady Mohammed, an 21-year old activist who volunteers in low-income neighborhoods, said no one — not even a president's son — gets a government job without a "wasta," an Arabic word loosely meaning favoritism or having connections.
"The problem is now Islamists are putting a loyalist or a member in every ministry and not based on merits," Mohammed said. "We are still a repressive country and with the president's son in a post, other employees will treat him as a leader, who must be obeyed."
The accusations prompted the aviation minister to publicly defend the hire.
El-Maadawi said the company's management found out that Omar Morsi applied two months ago for one of 10 jobs that had been internally advertised. He said Morsi's son followed regular procedures for applicants, took all required tests and currently was finalizing his paper work. El-Maadawi expressed surprise at the criticism, according to comments published in the state news agency.
The minister said Omar Morsi should be "commended" for applying for a "regular" job.
"There are many better jobs which pay better in different companies and sectors for which he didn't apply," the minister said according to MENA.
A presidential official declined to comment on the report, saying the presidency had no business with where Morsi's son is hired.
A recent report that Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki's son was hired to work as a highly paid judge in Qatar also caused concern. Mekki dismissed accusations of favoritism and said his son was deserving of the job.
Mariam Rizk in Cairo contributed to this report.