Last Updated: Fri Aug 17, 2012 08:56 am (KSA) 05:56 am (GMT)

Doing well by doing good and the next Egyptian revolution

Paul Sullivan

During my recent visit to Egypt something became quite clear to me: the revolution is far from over. Egypt is beset with serious security problems as exemplified by the brutal attack the killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai near the Rafah checkpoint. The streets of Egypt are not as safe as they once were. The police are hardly to be seen. In one visit to the countryside I saw one policeman in a very clean, starched, white uniform just riding about on a motorcycle.

I have heard many stories of the dreaded “baltigiyya”, thugs, who now roam more freely than before the recent insurrection. Some highways are not considered safe at some times of the night. The north of Sinai is now considered by many to not be safe at any time.

Egyptian troops are now trying to gain better control over the Sinai. Some Bedouin, extremists and some radical Palestinian and other groups have taken over some pockets of the Sinai. There is a serious drugs growing problem in the Sinai. There is people trafficking and more crossing part of the Sinai. Weapons from Libya in the Sinai and other places are a considerable worry.

Egyptians still remain some of the warmest, most welcoming people on the planet for people like me who have been visiting and living with them for 20 years. However, there are many concerns and worries.

The biggest worry of some, and I agree with them, is the economy. Unemployment is vast, especially amongst the youth. Underemployment is even worse. There are about one million new Egyptians each year. Each year Egypt needs to produce about that many jobs. It is producing very few net jobs. Poverty is increasing. Egypt’s stock market is slammed regularly by political and other events. Tourism is in horrible shape. Many hotels are more like echo chambers than resorts with visitors.

Electricity is becoming a real problem in this country that is in need of all of the energy it can get for its growing population. In some places access to water is becoming less reliable. Gasoline, LPG, and other primary energy sources have intermittent shortages so far.

I say so far because investment in refining capacity has been effectively nil for some time. The energy, water and other infrastructures are mostly in great need of maintenance and investment. International investors are wary of the risks of Egypt and are mostly staying away, excepting those that have a long term presence, such as some of the energy companies like BP and Apache of the supermarket chains like Carrefour. Major new jobs producing investments and infrastructure and energy investments will likely not happen until the situation settles down.

Egypt is in a vicious circle of perceived and actual instability feeding into its economic problems. Egypt needs economic help – and fast. However, few are ready to do this. Foreign aid has not been as forthcoming as hoped for. Many major Egyptian business people have either left the country or are thinking about it. Some of the newer business people and some of the more connected older ones seem to be benefiting from the loss of some of the old business elite. But capital flight and brain drain is the last thing Egypt needs.

It needs economic help. It needs investment. It needs international organizations and others to focus on getting their investments and aid directly to the people who need it. There is a great opening here for many to do well by doing good. Egyptians, especially the poor, need improved schools, clinics, training and more. Those who could help them, and at the same time could build relations with them, should see this as an opening to make a positive change.

Unless the economy turns around and the great mass of the poor and near poor does not see their lives improving Egypt could face a revolution of the hungry. This could be much worse than what has happened to far. The history of revolutions points to the great potential for this. The environment of Egypt points to this.

Is the world willing to let this happen? Is anyone listening out there? Egypt is a strategic country. Its region is volatile with a potential for much worse. Doing well by doing good could have a much wider meaning than just building schools for girls and feeling good about it. It could help save a country and a region from catastrophe.

Dr. Paul Sullivan is a Professor of Economics at the National Defense University, an adjunct professor of Security Studies and Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown University and a United Nations Global Experts. Copyright © 2012 Global Experts, a project of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

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