Al-Sisi’s austerity request

Rana Allam
7 Min Read
Rana Allam
Managing editor Rana Allam
Rana Allam

“Egypt’s youth is its hope; they need to give and not expect to take anything now.”

“Egypt needs a lot from us. Egypt’s youth should not be thinking about when will they be able to get married or when will they ‘live’, they need to build the country first.”

“Our economic situation is extremely difficult, right now we can’t ‘want’ anything, we should only ‘give’ to Egypt.”

“Before breakfast, before you put a piece of bread in your mouth, think what you have done for Egypt today.”

“There is a huge problem which we had not seen in 40 years; we are now 90 million people, so Egypt cannot afford to provide proper hospitals, schools and jobs for all.”

“There are over 9 million Egyptians living abroad. They all were educated in Egypt’s schools and universities and had lived on Egyptian soil, did any of them think to give one month salary for the poor in Egypt?”

“Did any of you here decide to walk to their work or university to save money for this country?”

These are parts of the speech delivered by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during an event, asking Egyptians for austerity to save the country.  The speech was met with wide criticism – mostly in the form of jokes, memes and satire – but let us take a closer look on the feasibility of the requests by Egypt’s most likely future president, if only to see if he really studied them.

Obviously, Al-Sisi was directing his speech to the youth, who want to “take”, “get married”, and “live”. According to the July 2013 estimates, Egypt’s population has reached 85.3 million registered citizens. Youth in this country constitute the largest part of the population, and according to recent reports by the state’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), they also constitute 69% of the total unemployed. Total unemployment rate reached 13.6% of Egyptians, but in the poorer Upper Egypt, the rate is 50%. Fifty percent of those living in Upper Egypt are unemployed!

Another report, also by the state’s CAPMAS, stated that 26.3% of Egyptians live beneath the poverty line, 4.4% of which are “extremely poor”, which means they live with less than EGP 3.75 a day (half a dollar given the parity of purchasing power). This number, 26.3%, is quite unrealistic, given that CAPMAS said that 85% of those holding permanent jobs are not considered poor, regardless of how much they are making. Consider this: in Egypt, a family needs a minimum income of EGP 1,620 to fulfill its basic needs, and many of those who are “permanently employed” have been struggling to increase the minimum wage to EGP 1,200. Those are not considered “poor” in the eyes of the government, so the 26.3% is nonsense.

CAPMAS had also reported in February a 10.2% annual inflation rate, with urban consumer inflation rate reaching 15.7% year on year and 0.3% month on month.

Poverty leads to food insecurity, people cannot afford to eat. In May 2013, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) along with CAPMAS issued a report based on the CAPMAS 2011 Household Income and Expenditure and Consumption Survey (HIECS). The report stated that “an estimated 13.7 million Egyptians or 17% of the population suffered from food insecurity in 2011”, “twice as many people moved into poverty as moved out, with less money to spend on food”, and that “the poorest families spend more than half of their average households on food and often buy less expensive, less nutritious food.” The report went on to elaborate on this, saying: “Malnutrition is up, with 31% of children under five years of age stunted… Stunting, reflecting chronic malnutrition is irreversible and stops children reaching their full physical and mental potential. In nine governorates across all regions in 2011, just over half of children under five were estimated to suffer from anaemia, classified as a ‘severe public health problem’ by the WHO.”

Those are numbers from 2011, even before the crisis reached its current levels, before the poverty rate reached (the unrealistic) 26.3%. 13.7 million Egyptians cannot afford to buy food!

Al-Sisi is obviously aware of the poverty issue and in his speech aims to urge the youth to help, but the youth are the ones who are unemployed. Added to the fact that 69% of the youth are unemployed as mentioned earlier, the government’s own CAPMAS also found that “51.3% of youths between the ages of 18 and 29 lived in or near poverty in 2012, representing nearly 23.6% of the population. 27% of them were listed as living in poverty, with another 24.3% labeled as living near the poverty line.”

How realistic and informed is the Field Marshal’s request for Egyptians to exercise more austerity?

On top of that, we need to consider that Egypt’s middle class is also suffering, with so many losing their jobs whether because of the tourism industry crisis or the horrible economic situation. Middle and upper middle class Egyptians are struggling to make ends meet, to live anywhere near their previous living standards, and to provide proper education and healthcare to their children. Most of them have long ago abandoned their dream of living “comfortably” and are now only aiming to remain afloat.

The middle class, which rose in 2011 asking for social justice to the poor of the country, will most likely rise again to demand social justice for themselves!

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