Egyptians feel less secure on the street, in their wallets

Gallup poll finds that fears of safety, economic distress worse than before revolution.

By DAVID ROSENBERG / THE MEDIA LINE
November 5, 2011 09:02
Protesters in Tahrir Square

Protesters in Tahrir Square 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptians feel less safe from crime and worse off financially than before the revolution that toppled President Husni Mubarak, according to opinion polls as the country’s transitional military government struggles to retain its legitimacy in the eyes of many Egyptians.

The two polls conducted by the US-based Gallup Organization in face-to-face interviews during July and August found that 38% answered “no” to the question of whether they felt safe walking alone in the city or their neighborhoods. That was down from 51% in the previous poll in June but more than double the 17 percent rate on the eve of the revolution, according to Gallup.

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At the same time, more Egyptians than ever reported they are struggling to make ends meet. Fewer than one in three said they were managing on their current household income, down from 43% a year ago, before mass protests erupted. Some 40% reported they are finding it “very difficult” to get by, an 11 percentage-point jump from June, according to Gallup’s poll data.

Nearly half said there had been times in the last 12 months when they didn’t have enough money to buy food for their families, the poll found.

Perceptions of deteriorating  personal and financial distress comes as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the group of generals running the country until elections has seen its standing with the public decline amid accusations that it is foot-dragging on the transition to democracy and reversing the human rights gains of the revolution.

“The lack of improvement in Egyptians' situations since Mubarak's ouster does not bode well for an interim government that is facing mounting criticism,” Gallup said.  “A number of high-profile political players are calling for the SCAF to resign from leading the country's daily affairs on all nonmilitary issues.”

More than eight months after Mubarak was ousted, the economy continues to suffer from political uncertainty and strikes while the interim government has tried to buy social peace with increased subsidies – a strategy that has caused the budget deficit to swell while depriving business of capital to invest and expand.

Meanwhile, SCAP’s standing with the public took a nosedive three weeks ago when a peaceful protest by the country’s Coptic Christian minority left 28 dead when security forces attacked the demonstrators.

Egypt's consumption index, measure of spending by household on items such as food and clothing, dropped 38% in September from the same period the year ago, according to retail sales figures compiled by the Egyptian Federation of Commerce. Ahmed El-Wakil, federation chairman, told Ahram Online on Monday that the decline showed the damaging effect of price hikes and political tension on consumer confidence.

Last week, Standard & Poor's downgraded Egypt's credit rating to BB-, citing weak government finances and rising risks to macroeconomic stability during the nation's political transition, which gets under way later this month with the first round of elections for parliament. The International Monetary Fund forecast in a report last week that Egyptian gross domestic product will expand 1.2% this year and 1.8% in 2012, rates insufficient enough to create jobs or raise incomes.

“People are aware that the economy has declined substantially since the January 25 Revolution. There’s now a media campaign to encourage people to work and rebuild the economy… Its going to take a long time for the situation to pick up,” Maye Kassem, associate professor of political scientist at the American University of Cairo, told The Media Line. “People feel they are in a period of psychological insecurity. People don’t know where Egypt is heading.”

The Gallup poll provided some silver lining to the concerns expressed by Egyptians. While the number of Egyptians expressing worry about crime is high, the number who said they had actually been a victim of crime is down from a similar survey taken before the revolution.

Only 8% told Gallup pollsters that they or a member of their household had been the victim of a property theft in the past 12 months, down from 13% before the revolution. Only 3% said they or a family member had been assaulted or mugged in the past year, down from 7% before the revolution, according to Gallup.

The public’s concern about crime was the justification Egypt's military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, made earlier this month for reviving the nation's controversial emergency laws. Opposition activists were livid about the setback to freedoms, but Tantawi struck a chord with the public with the move. “Wives are being kidnapped in the streets right in front of their husbands,” he said.

Meanwhile, a surprisingly large number of Egyptians expressed the view that “can people in this country can get ahead by working hard?” the survey found. Some 95% of respondents answered yes to the question, marking a steady rise from 81% in October 2010, before the revolution.

In fact, the crime and the economy are closely linked. Tourism, one of Egypt’s biggest earners of badly needed foreign exchange, has been hurt badly by fears of visitors for the safety while visiting the country.

Analysts have ascribed the gap between public fears and crime statistics to media coverage, a link borne out by the Gallup. Egyptians who rely on state television for their news were more likely to feel safe (62%) than those who watched other outlets, such as Qatar-based Al-Jazeera (51%). The tiny minority of Egyptians who said they get via social media also felt less safe, the poll, showed.

“It’s not out of control. People are going to work and school. It’s not like the place is a jungle,” Kassem said. “In the media, when there is a strike and demonstration, they portray it as if the whole country is like that.”


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