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Egypt Lacks Oil and Sense of Humor

By Claude Salhani | Tue, 02 April 2013 23:00 | 1

Egypt’s economy is in rather bad shape; practically in a shambles. Unemployment is officially placed at 13 percent, though the reality is certainly much higher. Inflation has almost doubled since November and the country’s ageing infrastructure continues to suffer from lack of resources. Buildings in parts of Cairo often crumble and collapse, killing their occupants due to lack of proper building codes.

Tourism, one of Egypt’s largest sources of hard currency revenue has dropped about $4 billion per year. An unprecedented surge in crowds attacking and molesting women continues to worry many, especially women who feel at risk every time they leave their homes. Just last week a female correspondent for the French news channel France 24 was attacked while reporting near Tahrir Square.

A shortage of fuel has resulted in sending food prices soaring, often the cause of popular street riots in Egypt. Electricity is no longer stable and blackouts are becoming more current (excuse the pun) and with summer approaching all these risks making the torrid Egyptian heat all the hotter this year. Already long lines at gas stations have resulted in at least five deaths in the past few weeks.

It does not require a financial wizard to get to the root of this problem.  In order to purchase fuel Egypt needs hard currency. Yet the recent unrest and the incertitude following the overthrow of the Mubarak regime and the installation of the pro-Islamist government of Mohammad Morsi, along with the associated problems mentioned above has resulted in a gross reduction of foreign, mainly Western tourists, which along with the Suez Canal are Egypt's primary source of hard currency revenues.

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Understandably few tourists are willing to risk life and limb in return for a few days of guaranteed sunshine and a visit to the Pyramids. With food and gasoline prices already heavily subsidized and with the government rapidly running out of money, there are fears that the country is heading for an economic disaster.

The fuel crisis affecting Egypt is not to be underestimated as its consequences could end up bringing down the government and with it invite chaos to Egypt. Lack of fuel could prevent farmers from having enough energy to activate the pumps needed to irrigate their fields.  This will inevitably result in food shortages, always a delicate matter that may easily erupt into anti-government protest.

For example, past attempts to raise the price of bread were met with violent demonstrations and street riots resulting in deaths, arrests and damage to property. Unable to raise the price per loaf, the government instead allowed bakeries to reduce the size of the bread. Over the years the size of a loaf of bread in Egypt shrank from a large pizza to the size of a croissant. Additionally the bakeries have taken to mix the flour with other ingredients rendering the quality of the bread at times less than desirable.

Washington has warned Egypt's new government that unless it passes new tax reforms a much-needed loan of close to $5 billion from the International Monetary Fund might not go through. President Morsi does not seem too worried by the cash crisis his country faces. One that experts in Washington went so far as to call a “potential economic disaster.”

With this smorgasbord of explosive issues on his plate one would think that Mohammad Morsi, the newly elected president of Egypt would have his priorities set, trying to tackle Egypt's most severe issues first: the economy and the rising fuel shortage as logic would have it. But lo and behold, logic has never been part of Egypt's culture. At least not in the last several decades.

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Instead President Morsi has taken to order the arrest Bassem Youssef, a popular television comedian known for poking fun of the president. Youssef is at times described as Egypt’s answer to Jon Stewart. The Egyptian star host was accused of “insulting Islam and the president.”  Quipped Stewart in defense of his Egyptian colleague:  “If insulting Islam and the president were a crime in this country Fox News would go bye-bye.”

Asking what exactly were Youssef’s “crimes,” making funs of the president’s hat and poor command of the English language, Stewart stated that he had made a career for eight years of making fun of President Bush’s hat and his poor command of the English language.

Addressing the Egyptian leader Stewart said that he need not be afraid of a television broadcaster. “You have planes and tanks. We know, we still have the receipts.” Adding, that ordering the arrest of a comedian does not qualify him to be president of Egypt.

Yes, regretfully, in some countries they still shoot the messenger.

By. Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.

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  • Philip Andrews on April 03 2013 said:
    70+ million Egyptians living in Cairo and along the banks of the Nile. The inhabited space cannot expand. So when the pop reachrs a certsin density, law and order break down. Famine recurs.

    Egypt can't threaten anyone. Desert evrerywhere. Her only foreign distraction would be to break the treaty with Israel. Not a wise move. The other foreign worry is Ethiopia damming the Nile upstream and Sudanes worries. An Egyptian Ethiopian war over dams?

    Maybe there will be internal conflict between the military and the Islamists.

    This is probably a crisis that has been brewing in Egypt for many thouand years. Egypt is almost the only country in the world with a huge population that cannot expand its living area or agricultural area due to desert. A unique situation.

    Solution? Population reduction to match resources, or Syrian style disintegration?

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