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Is this Egypt the President was talking about?

Mervat Ayoub

01 Jan 2013 7:23 pm

In his address to the nation last Saturday, President Mursi painted a rosy picture of Egypt’s economy, going so far as to say that those who claimed that the country was on the verge of bankruptcy are themselves the [morally] bankrupt. He was speaking before the opening session of the Shura (Consultative) Council—the upper house of Egypt’s parliament—the legality of which is being contested in court, but which the President immunised against court rulings

In his address to the nation last Saturday, President Mursi painted a rosy picture of Egypt’s economy, going so far as to say that those who claimed that the country was on the verge of bankruptcy are themselves the [morally] bankrupt. He was speaking before the opening session of the Shura (Consultative) Council—the upper house of Egypt’s parliament—the legality of which is being contested in court, but which the President immunised against court rulings. 
In fiery rhetoric, President Mursi praised the country’s new constitution as the best ever Egypt had, said the country’s economy was booming, tourism was up, and foreign debt was a mere 20 per cent of the GDP. He presented the country##s foreign currency reserves, currently at $15bn, as up from last year, though he acknowledged they were still down dramatically from the USD36bn before the January 2011 revolution.
Soon after Mursi##s speech, the Central Bank of Egypt warned that foreign reserves were a “critical” minimum level—that is, the minimum for meeting obligations such as international debt and covering the costs of strategic imports. 
“Another country”
The Cairo daily al-Masry al-Youm came out the following day with a headline that echoed what the majority of Egyptians on the street were saying: “Mursi is talking of a country other than the one we’re living in”. 
The Egyptian Pound has lost some 4.9 per cent of its value against the US Dollar since President Mursi’s Constitutional Declaration on 22 November, Egypt’s credit rating has dropped, income from tourism is all but lost, and unemployment is rampant. Yet the President confidently announced an increase in growth rates and tourism revenues and denied all claims of economic collapse.
Predictably, public reaction to the President’s speech varied between Islamist support and disapprobation and ridicule by non-Islamists. Farid Ismail, member of the executive office of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), described the speech as historical because it was the first address by the President after the adoption of the new constitution. It was delivered in front of the Shura Council, Dr Ismail said, which is the legislative body that will be drafting laws until the election of the new People’s Assembly in 2013. President Mursi, he said, reassured that political and economic conditions are stable.
In the same vein, Khaled al-Sherif spokesman of the Islamist Building and Development Party, said President Mursi’s speech was a message of reassurance that the Egyptian economy is stable, but patience is needed for it to regain its strength and vigour. The President, he said, gave the highest priority to the eradication of poverty and unemployment, and invited all political streams to a national dialogue.
Lacking vision
For his part, Professor of Constitutional Law and spokesman of the liberal al-Wafd party Abdallah al-Mughazi saw the President’s address as out of touch. It does not reflect, Dr Mughazi said, the country’s deep economic woes threatened by the dry-out of State cash reserves. The President claimed that political figures who fled the country are leading a counter revolution from abroad, and said Egypt will not brought to its knees.
“President Mursi’s address was lacking in vision and offered no commitments or programmes for real solutions to the sharp social and economic downturn in Egypt,” Ali al-Selmy, member of the presidential office of the Democratic Front party, said. “The speech gave nothing but slogans and empty promises.”
Nabil Zaki, spokesman of leftist Tagammu Party, said the President appeared to be of some other country. “Instead of discussing the collapsing economy,” Mr Zaki said, “the President applauded a lot of achievements that do not exist in the first place.”
The opinions of Egyptians on Facebook were split as well. Whereas Islamist activist Shaaban al-Mahdy said that the liberals were intentionally discrediting the President, Mohamed Abbas Abul-Ela saw his efforts at reassurance and optimism irrational.  “How can Mursi be trusted,” Abul-Ela wonders, “when the experience of the past months reveals his complete lack of vision?”
Essam al-Zuheiri, coordinator of the National Association for Change in Fayoum, said that the slogans the President Mursi used were turned into jokes on the street, especially since the Central Bank of Egypt issued a statement correcting the discrepancies and erroneous figures in the President’s speech. Zuheiri insisted that the President’s main concern is to discredit the opposition and try to prove that he is the best president ever and his government superior, while all indicators point otherwise.
Watani International
31 December 2012


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