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February 10, 2017
Six years after the street protests that resulted in the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians are still struggling with high prices, anemic economic growth and increased insecurity. The discontent on the streets is strong enough to occasionally make its way onto the pages of the Egyptian dailies, despite fears of reprisal from a government that has shown little patience with dissent. In addition to economic troubles, Egypt’s government is having to deal with a number of setbacks both at home and abroad.
In a recent op-ed for the Egypt Independent newspaper, Mai Azzam gives voice to the frustrations of the Egyptians on the street, taking aim at the economic disparities that exist in the country: “Since the rule of the Pharaohs, there have been two different Egypts: working Egypt and ruling Egypt. Poor Egypt [is] loved by its good people despite its ills, and rich Egypt which upon its fruits live its rulers, the layer of senior state officials, diplomatic corps, the judiciary, police, the businessmen, and the wealthy....Presidents of Egypt are always complaining about the lazy and dependent people, who repeat ‘forgive me’ over and over, even though the magic of this word makes millions bear the bitterness of life under these selfish rulers, who advise us to look at the ground and not at the sky, as looking upward will make us disgruntled and want equality with the rich....And so what has happened for thousands of years is that rulers get richer and the public gets poorer, more ignorant and more diseased. Even when these rulers finally leave the government, they have seized such huge amounts of money from the people that they can continue to live comfortably, and their children and their grandchildren.”
Even spinning the economic figures as a temporary setback, like this piece by Moataz Bellah Abdel-Fattah of Daily News Egypt, does not hide the dire reality of the Egyptian economy: “There is no doubt that the Egyptian economy has suffered after the revolution....Egypt achieved an economic growth rate of 4% in 2016 compared to 5.3% in 2010. Inflation amounted to 24.4% in 2016 compared 13.6% in 2010. The unemployment rate reached 12.8% in 2016 compared to 9% in 2010.....According to the aforementioned data, we find that Egypt’s economy has declined compared to the previous period before the revolution. This decline is normal because we are like a worker whose machine has stopped for maintenance. These indicators witnessed a gradual improvement after the revolution. The Egyptian situation is similar to other countries which have developed their economy after experiencing worse situations. Egypt faces huge challenges, but we can overcome all the obstacles with hope and work which are the key factors of success on both personal and public levels.”
Also writing for the Daily News Egypt, Abdallah Al-Moghazy suggests that the current economic environment requires major changes in the government, starting at the top: “At a time in which the Egyptian people are wondering where the Egyptian government is, what is the parliament doing to control the markets, and who will save them from these crazy prices?... Everyone, whether they are the president or the parliament, knows that the issue is bigger than simply changing a few ministers. The issue needs a prime minister with an economic and political background. Someone who is young and able to change the course of things based on their deep faith and strong will for change....let us start with current Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and thank him. You did what you had to do but please, it is enough. You have your excuse; present it to the president. Tell him that it is for health reasons. Today, the citizen has become a victim of a dead conscience, non-existent control, and unjustified, sky-rocketing prices.”
Ziad Bahaa-Eldin-Ahram, on the other hand, in an op-ed posted on the Copts United news site, appeals to a sense of patriotism, urging his fellow citizens to temper their anger and show more patience, insisting that the future of Egypt must be built on the foundations of the January Revolution: “I don’t think there’s one Egyptian who hasn’t paid some price over the last six years in the conflicts and crises the country experienced following the January 25 revolution, though the price certainly differed from one person to the next.... Some gave their lives in defense of a right or principle or for the security of the nation and its citizens’ safety. Some of these continue to risk their lives every day.....The struggle to achieve the interests of the nation and citizens is not only about bravely standing in the street, but about patience, tireless work, perseverance, and determination to reach one’s goal even if a takes a while. It involves a willingness to negotiate and make progress step by step....The January revolution is part of our common contemporary history, and it’s the foundation on which our state today, and its constitution and legitimacy, are based.”
Though most commentators have avoided direct criticism of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, he has not been wholly immune from institutional and public challenge. The most recent criticism coming from Egypt’s Council of Senior Islamic Scholars, who, as Asharq Alawsat’s Waleed Abdul Rahman notes “reject… Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s suggestion that legislation be adopted to invalidate the practice of Muslim men verbally divorcing their wives. The council validated the verbal divorce without witnesses or documentation, during a meeting chaired by Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayeb. Sissi called for enacting a law that regulates verbal divorces, especially after the recent rise of divorce rates among Egyptians up to 900,000 cases on an annual basis — Forty percent of marriages end in divorce within the first five years....The council unanimously ruled that verbal divorce, when meeting all requirements, has been an undisputed practice since the days of the 7th century Prophet Muhammad. The requirements, it explained, included that the man has a sound mind, full consciousness and uses appropriate phrasing.”
The foreign-policy arena has also proven challenging for Egypt’s president. In an analysis of the Egyptian-Saudi alliance, Jerusalem Post’s Bruce Maddy-Weitzman concludes that “2016 was not a good year for either Egypt or Saudi Arabia, the twin pillars of the Sunni Arab bloc of states. Three years after taking power, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s initial popularity has waned as Egypt’s intractable economic and social problems weighed more heavily on the populace, sparking criticism of the regime, even in the usually pro-government media. Sisi’s call for the populace to tighten their belts and remain patient rang increasingly hollow, as Egyptians confronted acute shortages and high prices of staples such as sugar, rice and cooking oil, a cut in fuel subsidies and a devaluation of the Egyptian pound....Strategically, the two countries continue to share an interest in counterbalancing Iranian power in the region, and Riyadh has a fundamental interest in helping Egypt cope with its economic difficulties. But Sisi’s expressed preference for a united ‘Arab’ Syria and a strengthening of ties with Russia, as part of an effort to reassert Egyptian regional influence, clash sharply with Saudi priorities, particularly those of the young Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. These differences and mutual sensitivities suggest that repairing the relationship won’t be a simple matter.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.