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Egypt: One Year Later

Posted on the 25 January 2012 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal

Egypt, One Year Later

Sunset prayers in Tahrir Square, January 25, 2012. (Photo: CIPE Staff)

One year ago yesterday, millions of Egyptians risked their lives to make their country a better place in which to live. Unlike in Tunisia, where the degree of consensus on how the country should be governed has been remarkable, the year that has followed the Egyptian uprising has been contentious and pocked by crises, in some ways making elusive that better life that Egyptians seek. By agreeing that delivering a better life to the average person should be the top priority, however, Egyptians may find ground for consensus that could make their transition smoother.

Thus far, the flourishing of political party formation and the largely free and fair elections that accompanied it have yet to deliver better lives to the average Egyptian, as an economy that was hardly robust to begin with struggled to heal from the dislocation of revolution. The continued struggles to find consensus regarding the country’s direction have exacerbated this dislocation by creating instability. Uncertainty and crises have made Egyptians and foreigners alike skittish about spending their money in Egypt.

Rather than delivering a better life to the average Egyptian, the revolution has thus far made daily life trickier. Jobs are evaporating, food is becoming more expensive, and fuel is becoming scarce. According to an article posted yesterday by The New York Times, many Egyptians can no longer afford to get married. In a recent Reuters article titled “Uprising leaves Egyptians freer, poorer,” Ahmed Abdel-Khaleq, the 48-year-old owner of a ceramics workshop summed up the frustration that many feel: “People are getting laid off, sitting around with nothing to do. A revolution should make life easier. It should rebuild. Ever since the revolution happened, I can’t get my loaf of bread.”

The success of Egypt’s revolution may depend on the ability of Egyptian political and civil society leaders to not only restore confidence in the country’s economy, but to reform it so that it delivers more robustly for average Egyptians. Recently, Egyptian political parties have been moving towards a consensus response to economic challenges that would entail securing loans from the IMF and other donors, strengthening financial markets, investing in small- and medium-sized enterprises, and trimming the budget deficit, potentially by cutting subsidies, which Ahmed Heikal of Citadel Capital recently wrote would free up $58 billion a year for the government to invest in other areas that need it. If Egyptians can come to consensus on these issues, it could infuse confidence in their transition and make future challenges less imposing.

For their part, many Egyptians project confidence in their ability to come together and handle the challenges that confront their country one year into their revolution. Dalia Mogahed, director and senior analyst at the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, recently wrote that according to Gallup polls conducted throughout the year, the “real revolution” is that “Egyptians are more optimistic than they have been in years.”

Mohamed El-Erian, who as the CEO of the investment fund PIMCO, probably has a decent grasp of the magnitude of the challenges to Egypt’s economy, recently wrote confidently of Egypt’s prospects. Referring to the country’s economic challenges as “headwinds that can and will be overcome,” El-Erian wrote that “Egyptians are committed to completing their impressive revolution, and they will.”

Egyptians came together on January 25, 2011, and the 18 days that followed it, showing a resolve and unity of purpose that continues to provide confidence to Egyptians today. Rediscovering that unity of purpose to focus on the problems confronting the average Egyptian could serve to bring Egyptians together again, making the challenges of building a workable democracy a little less challenging.

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