Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Worse Than Anyone Imagines"

Veteran Middle East watcher Robin Wright on the dire economic news from Egypt. Remember that unemployed young men were fodder for Iran's Islamist revolution in the late 1970s:
[A] year of turmoil has...reversed tentative economic progress in the Arab world's largest country, which accounts for 25 percent of the 300 million Arabs spread across 22 countries. Egypt's economy, which is the fourth largest in the Middle East, has been tanking. Tourism is drying up. Investors have been scared off. And foreign currency reserves have plummeted.

Prime Minister Kamal el Ganzouri broke into tears last month as he told journalists that Egypt's economy was "worse than anyone imagines." The situation is sufficiently dire that the government has opened talks about a $3.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund, an idea it originally rejected as a threat to its sovereignty.

But to jumpstart the economy with an IMF loan, Cairo would also have to undertake reforms and reduce subsidies that could seriously increase public pain. By last October, 40 percent of Egyptians surveyed by Gallup already said they found it "very difficult" to get by, with nearly half of Egyptians saying they had faced times when they did not have enough money to buy food.

In an ominous sign for the future, youth unemployment -- in a country where 60 percent of the population is under 30 -- is currently estimated at 25 percent, with few of the young having any imminent prospects. Sayed and Abdel Nabi are among them. Many of the hardcore who returned to Tahrir last fall are the marginalized and unemployed, not the idealistic activists who launched the uprising.

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