Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gives a speech outside the Supreme Council in Cairo .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Google “Egypt economy” and a lengthy list of news articles will pop up about the country’s ongoing economic crisis. But much of the commentary may be over-hyped.
The state of 90 million people is propped up by aid from the Gulf states, trade deals and arms from Russia, and quiet security cooperation with Israel. But apart from human rights activists and Islamists, few countries have an interest in the key Arab state slipping back into chaos.
This is not to minimize the array of problems Egypt faces today, including corruption, police abuse, terrorism, and a lack of human rights. But compared to other Arab states, such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, the country is doing relatively well.
An article published on Thursday in The New York Times titled, “Where’s My Mercedes? Egypt’s Financial Crisis Hits the Rich,” documents the unrest among the upper class as currency restrictions bite into their lifestyle, but this is a far cry from where the country was a few years ago.
“In general, authoritarian regimes are extremely stable, since they have the security forces, media and unions that produce an atmosphere of stability, but are highly fragile,” Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, told the Post.
“Since [Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi toppled former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the security apparatus and bureaucracy have been running the state and produced a kind of stability,” he added.
However, he continued, their heavy hand against political rivals has imprisoned tens of thousands. A post-revolution law bans demonstrations and protests.
On one hand there is stability, but on the other there are terrorist attacks, although insecurity has not reached levels of the first two years after the 2011 revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak. The cities are much more secure than they were in 2012 to 2013, Meital added.
“The bloody fight in Sinai against militant Islam is far from over, and the border with Libya is a source of grave concern,” he said.
On the economic front, the scholar sees the situation as worrying, though a cash influx from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states has helped keep Egypt from insolvency. Tourism is reduced drastically from more than 14 million visitors a year in 2010; numbers so far this year are down by around 40 percent.
“A significant part of the budget is allocated to purchasing sophisticated weaponry, while the basic needs of tens of millions are not being met,” noted Meital.
“It is difficult for the government to deliver on basic food staples.”
On a lighter note, Meital said Egypt is not near the chaos in Syria and Iraq.
“There is no risk the regime will fall tomorrow,” he said.
“Tens of millions of Egyptians have difficult lives and no sign of major change. But in the long run, I would say the crucial challenge is not the economy, but government stability and the ability of the government to unite a polarized society.
“The split in Egypt between Islamists and non-Islamists is unprecedented in the modern era,” he continued, predicting that the divisions are far from being narrowed.