As demonstrations were still going on, though on a far lesser scale, Egypt’s
statistics bureau released official figures on August 31 that put the country’s
population at 85 million (not counting the 8 million or so living
Eight-hundred-thousand newly hopeful Egyptians crowd the job
market each year, this in spite of the fact that the birthrate has dropped
significantly to 2.4 percent.
Egypt is poised to reach the 100 million
mark by 2020.
As it is, 40% to 50% of the population are living below the
$2-a-day poverty line drawn by the UN, and some 30% are illiterate.
scope of the efforts needed to feed the masses while propelling the country on
the path of economic development is awesome, and nothing can be done without a
return to some semblance of political stability.
The interim regime is
doing its best to bring order to the political situation. According to the road
map set down by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the presidential decree
issued by interim president Adly Mansour, new civilian institutions should be up
and running within nine months. A revised constitution will be submitted to the
people by referendum; elections to the parliament and to the presidency will
Sisi is standing fast by his pledge to hand over his powers
to the new civilian authorities, though some call him the new
It’s hard to see how the newly empowered masses, who have gotten
rid of two dictators in as many years, would let him, too, become
Sisi enjoys popular support as long as he keeps his word and works
to restore civilian rule.
However, it is not an easy task.
he has to neutralize, once and for all, the Muslim Brotherhood and put a stop to
Then he has to supervise the drafting of a constitution
representing all currents, while not letting Islamic parties back
Will the non-Islamic parties be able to set up a liberal-democratic
front that can muster at least 40% of the vote and form a coalition government?
And since it will still be a presidential system, can there be a candidate
acceptable to all? The Brotherhood is still fighting, though it is rudderless,
the top echelons being in jail or having fled. There is still sporadic unrest
and demonstrations, but in ever smaller numbers.
There are rumors about
talks between Muslim Brothers and the regime, though for the moment Sisi
steadfastly refuses to give them a role. At some point the Brotherhood will have
to admit its defeat and seek ways to reorganize.
Is this the end for
political Islam? It remains to be seen how Islamic parties – the Brotherhood,
the Salafists and the Gamaa al-Islamiyya – will fare against the non-Islamic
parties, which do not deny that Egypt is an Islamic country and that Shari’a is
the principal source of the law, but want all citizens of the country to enjoy
civil rights and freedom.
Representatives of the al- Nour Salafist party
are demanding to have their say in the drafting of the constitution, and the
Brotherhood – still reeling from its defeat – will eventually find its
The liberal and democratic forces have yet to coalesce into a
viable party and get the 30% to 40% of the vote they need.
salvation front, which united the opposition to Morsi, is disintegrating since
the departure of Mohamed ElBaradei, one of its main leaders, who had been
appointed vice-president and resigned abruptly to protest the repression carried
out by Sisi, leaving his Dostour party in disarray.
There is talk of a
new force, the “Free Current,” founded last December but still struggling for
No potential presidential candidates have emerged,
and so the crisis is not yet over.
What happens next will depend in large
part on the economy. Egypt used to rely on tourism, traffic in the Suez canal
and gas and oil exports, with some chemical products and agricultural produce
including cotton and its industry.
Tourism is floundering, oil reserves
are almost exhausted and the country has not been able to develop its enormous
Mubarak’s efforts to modernize the country’s industries
have had only moderate success, due to bureaucracy and corruption.
the interim government is working hard at restoring order after the
Shops are open; there are no more endless queues in front of
petrol stations and no power failures.
Last week an ambitious program was
launched to revitalize the economy.
No new taxes will be introduced and
subsidies will not be cut. Thanks to the generous help of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait
and the Emirates, which have pledged $12b., the government will make $1.4b.
available to the banks so they can help businesses hurt by recent events and
encourage new ventures.
Gas production and infrastructure will be
addressed and efforts will be made to bring back tourists.
This is an
emergency program aiming to put the country back on track and give the people
confidence in their leaders.
The fundamental reforms needed – such as
canceling subsidies and introducing more privatization and modern technology –
will require such enormous investments that it is difficult to see how the
country can manage on its own. Yet political and economic stability will not be
Egypt needs the help of the West. It needs its own
Marshall Plan to resume its place as a regional leader.
The question, of
course, is will it get it?
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for
Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.