For most Egyptians, security and economic growth issues trump other considerations
The age-old argument of democracy versus stability seems settled for most Egyptians in favour of stability ahead of the country’s presidential election in March. It is likely to yield the same result as in 2014 — a landslide victory for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Few Egyptians admit to as much enthusiasm about the March election as in 2012 or even in 2014 when Sisi was first elected. For most, however, security and steady economic growth trump other considerations, not least freedom of speech.
This pragmatism is the product of the events of 2011 and 2013. A national uprising, begun in January 2011 by idealistic young Egyptians, was hijacked by Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood managed the country’s takeover in record time. Fortunately, its way of thinking could not be hidden once it took charge of the country.
This triggered the June 30, 2013, revolt against Muslim Brotherhood rule. It was perhaps the first time in modern history that an Islamist regime was ousted by means of massive organised protests.
Both uprisings took their toll on Egypt. Businesses, tourism, the stock market and other sectors suffered losses conservatively estimated by Egyptian economists of at least $100 billion.
These losses were huge for a country struggling before June 2013 to push a development agenda. Egypt’s international debt is double that of 2011 and the debt looks likely to rise because of the $25 billion nuclear power deal with Russia.
The Egyptian currency is at one-third of its 2011 value. Prices are nearly four times what they were but salaries are at the same level. Egyptians labour under the twin burdens of record inflation rates and lack of opportunities.
The inflation rate, which soared to more than 35% in July 2017, dropped to 22.3% by year-end but that’s still extremely high. Egyptian news portal Masrawy reported that the government is expected to raise the price of electricity, gas and fuel this year with knock-on effects on foodstuffs and other commodities.
Higher utility prices are the result of the deal struck between the Egyptian government and the International Monetary Fund as part of its economic reform plan. Egyptians, however, are feeling the effects of inflation. Subsidies on bread and other basics go only so far.
Unsurprisingly, the fear is that political change could lead to higher inflation rates and fewer certainties. Sisi wins on those counts, if no other.
That said, all is not doom and gloom in Sisi’s Egypt. The president has adopted effective energy policies and Egypt is moving towards energy self-sufficiency. The government has promised two expensive ventures — a new administrative capital and Suez Canal development. Also, the tourism sector is gradually improving, ending 2017 with a 54% jump over 2016 to 8.3 million tourists visiting the Egypt, a government official told Reuters.
If Sisi is the safest bet for 2018, what of 2022, when his second term as president would end?
It may seem a rather long way off but the response to projections for 2022 is telling. Egyptians seem to believe a lot less in more change leading to better things. They seem largely inclined to repose faith in the military rather than in politicians.
Unless the situation changes drastically in the next four years, Egyptians are likely to favour a leader with a military background so long as he promises the same levels of security and stability they’ve come to expect.
Clearly, in a decade of uprisings and change, Egyptians have come to fear more change. The next great revolution for Egypt would be for the freedom from fear.