03/17/2017, 17.32
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After the Arab Spring, Egypt sinks into crisis

by André M. Azzam

Tourism is at a standstill, oil supplies are low, prices have skyrocketed. The average family cannot buy basic medicines or necessities. Politically, the situation is more than disappointing: the bosses of the old police state might be gone, but corruption and an outrageous system remain. Yet, there is still some hope for an acceptable life.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – The Arab Spring generated a lot hope among Egyptians. Alas, for the past six years, they have gone from one disappointment to another.

The people’s revolution of January-February 2011 was soon hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, who seized power, not democratically as the West likes to repeat, but in a way that was a throwback to the Nasser era.

The Brotherhood’s government lasted only a year and did not meet any of the expectations of the people who overthrew it with the help of constituted bodies, including the armed forces.

On 30 June 2014, more than 30 million people demonstrated across the country, from Alexandria, in the north, to Aswan in the south. There was no military coup, but a real cry from the heart of a people.

However, since then, the situation has only deteriorated:

- terrorist attacks against the authorities, in particular the police;

- attacks against tourism, including a Russian plane shot down, and ongoing attacks in the Sinai, which is a seaside destination par excellence;

- attacks on Christians, who represent 15-20 per cent of the population: the destruction of places of worship, schools, charitable institutions, as well as Christian businesses and homes across the country.

Recently, hundreds of Christian families who fled El ʿArīš, northeastern Sinai, have become refugees in their own country.

Tourism is at a virtual standstill. Oil supplies are running low since Saudi Arabia stopped providing it over the past year (as a political sanction). Petrol doubled in price overnight.

Major projects, like doubling of the Suez Canal seaway, have not brought in the expected revenues due to the global fall in oil prices and the slowdown in cargo traffic in the canal.

Another big problem is the devastating devaluation of the Egyptian pound in 2016. Before the US dollar fluctuated between 6 and 8 pounds and the euro between 8 and 10. With devaluation, the dollar hit 20-22, and the euro topped 20.

As a result, prices have hit the roof. Official sources and foreign embassies estimate the inflation rate at nearly 40 per cent.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the price of bread and cereals jumped by 65.5 per cent, rice by 86 per cent, coffee, tea and cocoa by 82 per cent.

To say that prices have risen is a euphemism, especially for people in the back country. Sugar went from 5 to 10 pounds a kilo overnight. A bag of flour – crucial in villages where bread is home-made – went from 100 to 200 pounds. Considering that a family of six needs at least two bags per month, the cost is now 400 pounds when the average monthly salary is 1,500 pounds.

Ordinary people have had stop consuming certain items like coffee. The latter was already expensive for the middle classes, who had to turn to Nescafé. Now that the price of 100 grams went from 45 to 125 pounds, they had to give up that too. Not to mention other items, like eggs, milk, meat or fish, whose price has more than tripled . . .

One other product that is beyond reach are drugs. Government subsidies have been lifted and the price of basic medicines simply increased tenfold.

Meanwhile, the political situation is more than disappointing. The bosses of the old police regime may be gone, but corruption and an outrageous system continue.

The authorities defend themselves by attacking opponents, including intellectuals, journalists and other social leaders. Even NGOs are suspected by the authorities, fearful that they may engage in religious or political proselytising.

The general atmosphere is now very grey in Egypt. Natural resources no longer suffice, purchasing power has been substantially cut, unemployment has reached new heights, and the future seems bleak.

The only ray of optimism lies in the essential soul of the Egyptian people, who are open, humorous and capable of rebounding, once a few basic needs are met, namely security, jobs, clear prospects and actual hope for survival.

In a country that is 95 per cent desert, such a friendly people will soon prove that flowers can blossom from pebbles.

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