Electing the first post-revolution president in Egypt is a key step in the country’s transitional period, but it is not the only one, as the elections are taking place in a tense environment. The extent of the president’s power is uncertain, given the ambiguity surrounding the Constitution — we still do not even know which committee will be interpreting his power. On top of it all, the military, which took over power since February 2011, is still active at the political, economic and military levels.
"The transition toward democracy in Egypt is not yet complete," is how the Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Tamara Cofman Wittes, described Egypt. The country is eager to hold presidential elections on Wednesday amid much fanfare of multiple candidates, 13 of whom have centered their electoral campaigns on national security and the Constitution.
Given Egypt’s huge losses in the tourism and investment sectors, however, economic issues are the most attractive.
According to Jane Kinninmont, a researcher at the British Chatham House Institute, "Since the uprising, inward investment and tourism revenues have fallen, growth has slowed, and unemployment has risen. But the fundamentals of Egypt’s economy have not changed.” She continued, “The country has by far the largest population in the Middle East and is one of the Arab world's most diversified economies. It has oil and gas, world-class tourist attractions and a strategic trading location at the nexus of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These assets explain why no major investors have pulled out of Egypt since January. There is a chance, though it is not for sure, that Egypt's economic prospects could improve if the new regime proves to be less corrupt and more meritocratic.”
At this point, all of the presidential candidates are making economic promises: “Aboul Fotouh, an independent Islamist, aims to increase healthcare spending to 15 percent of the state budget, and education spending to 25 percent by 2016. Amr Moussa has set the same goals albeit with a vaguer timescale; while Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander with links to the military establishment, and Hamdeen Sabbahi, a leftist with a Nasserist background, both favor a health insurance scheme for all Egyptians. Housing is another key issue: Aboul Fotouh, Moussa and Shafiq have promised programs to redevelop Egypt's sprawling slums, while Mursi and Sabbahi both pledged new subsidized housing for the poor,” says Kinninmont.
Therefore, candidates know full well that focusing on living conditions and the economy is crucial for their success in the elections, so everyone is acting like a hero. They are well aware that Egyptian voters will not "vote for Islam but for more mundane things, and especially job opportunities," as Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in Los Angeles Times.
Fleishman quoted an Egyptian who said, "I don't care about how much Islam is in the government, I want a president who will rebuild my country. We need to rise again to greatness."
“Most Egyptians agree that Islam should guide national policy, but a large segment of Egyptians — 40 percent of the citizens who live on less than two dollars a day — fear that the elite's preoccupation with religion and talk of reviving centuries-old caliphates are diversions from the country's entrenched problems,” writes Fleishman.
Egyptians want to get the economy on its feet after tourism revenues fell by a third amid a tense political atmosphere that the country has not witnessed since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
According to the Wall Street Journal, what Egypt has to do after it elects a president is to activate the movement of “cruise ships that would travel up and down the Nile stopping at traditional tourist havens which are largely tied up at docks," referring to tourists who “bypass the Nile region in favor of the more modern beach resorts on the Red Sea at the southern tip of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.”
Citing one of the Egyptian workers in the tourism sector in the center of Cairo, The Journal article says, “Before the revolution, there were people coming from Japan, Ukraine, America, England, Sweden, everywhere, but now, there is nothing.”
Apparently, everyone is complaining about the economic situation in Egypt. However, the solution may not be limited to implementing electoral promises. These promises are seemingly incapable of solving the living conditions dilemma and may only manage to promote the regional and international economy, Chatham House stated, in reference to Gulf and international aid which will guarantee the return of investors.
Continue reading this article by registering and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly