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Egypt's challenge

Andrea Teti / Anne AllmelingJanuary 6, 2013

Egypt's economy is in ruins and ordinary people are suffering. The country needs an economic concept, but the political forces are not responding, says political scientist Andrea Teti.

Andrea Teti, Egypt expert and lecturere at Aberdeen University in Scotland; Copyright: privat
Andrea TetiImage: privat

The economic situation in Egypt has worsened in the past few months. How does this situation affect the population?

Well, it's certainly not good news for the population, because the government is essentially being arm-twisted into [accepting] new IMF influence, and it spells bad news for the Egyptian population. The removal of subsidies, for example, is disproportionately likely to hit the least well-off in Egyptian society. And this is certainly going to cause protests from several quarters: both from the groups of people who have opposed the Islamist government thus far, but also from its support, particularly in the provinces. Either way, it's not particularly good news.

Have political factors contributed to the economic decline?

Yes, absolutely, the entire structure of the transition process in Egypt has been, from a political point of view, very conducive to the Muslim Brotherhood securing its grip on power, in cooperation, silent cooperation, with the military. But the cost of that has been a strategy that has made the economic, as well as the political situation, much more uncertain. You also didn't get the re-emergence of tourism that had been expected at various points during 2012.

But even more profoundly than that, the apparent randomness of the transition process has not helped the formulation of either a clear economic policy or of an economic policy that does what it is supposed to do, which is to provide the sustainable and inclusive development that is so badly needed in Egypt. So from all these points of view, the transition process at a political level has had a very negative impact on the economy.

The Muslim Brotherhood is in charge of the political and economic decisions at the moment. Are they being held accountable for the current situation?

I think there is quite a lot of evidence that they are being held accountable and that they will be held accountable at the polls, certainly in the medium term, if not in the short term. The protest, several protests that have happened in 2012 - for example, against Mohamed Morsi's constitutional declaration in November - have shown that there is quite a significant amount of mobilization against the Muslim Brotherhood, that it has lost support from certain parts of it traditional support base.

It cannot rely in the same way that it did before on massive popular support. In the last election on the referendum for the constitution, we saw a very split vote taking place. On the one hand, you had metropolitan areas, like Alexandria and Cairo, voting against the approval of the constitution, although by a relatively narrow margin. On the other hand, you had the provinces, the less populated areas, where the Brotherhood has deeper roots compared to the opposition movements. Those provinces voted massively in favor of the constitution. Those were incidentally the provinces that were hardest hit economically.

There is evidence of decline in support. However, I think for the upcoming elections we won't see too much of a dent in their support base and that they will remain far and away the largest and best organized political force in Egypt. That in itself has carried them through the various electoral tests so far, and is in fact one of the reasons why they have been so keen on pushing electoral tests for national political decisions.

Are there any political parties or affiliations that profit from the Brotherhood's difficulties?

At least over the short term there has been quite a lot of political movement, which makes the situation even harder to read. For example, we have had, in just the last few days, the formation, or purported emergence, of a liberal, secular party under or within el-Baradei's party [Mohammed el-Baradei's National Salvation Front: ed.].

At the same time, you have splits within the Salafist movement; for example, the emergence of certain members of the Nour Party. And in the midst of all this, the Brotherhood is trying not to lose too much of its support to the Islamist right, although it has been absorbing members as well as losing members from the progressive side. It is extremely difficult to tell what levels of support each faction has. The only thing we do know is that the organizational capabilities of these various groups pale in comparison to the Brotherhood.

What has to happen in order to improve the situation in Egypt?

Well, that depends on what you mean by improve, because from the Muslim Brotherhood's point of view everything is going quite swimmingly. They are steadily consolidating their grip on power.

Electoral concerns over the erosion of support are relatively low on their list of priorities, and the process of getting various loans - for example from the IMF, the Europeans, the Americans and the Gulf states - is more likely to shore up the Brotherhood's position in Egypt than not, especially the faction of the Brotherhood led by the business people, Khairat al-Shater [Morsi's deputy, ed.] and so on.

The transition process is going very well for the Brotherhood because they have managed to move into a position where they are very strongly embedded in power.

From the point of view of the opposition and of Egypt as a whole, I think the results are at best mixed, both politically and economically, for the reasons we have mentioned. No stability has been achieved, there has been nothing in the way of growth, tourism has not returned. Also at a political level, we've seen developments of considerable concern, like the draft of a protest law that has been circulated in the Shura Council in the last few days. It puts very draconian punishments on all kinds of political protest. So, the omens are not good for the political climate in Egypt.

Andrea Teti is a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and a senior fellow at the European Center for International Affairs. This interview was conducted by DW's Anne Allmeling.