The word “middle” refers to the centre. It is the point that maintains balance and achieves stability. If the middle point breaks down the whole system will collapse. The middle class is the centre of society, which maintains stability and social peace. Therefore, the aim of any government, especially in the developing countries, would be to increase this middle class and help people through social mobility to move up from poverty to reach it. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Egypt.
Despite the fact that we even live in the “Middle” East, the middle class has diminished significantly through the years. According to the World Bank, the middle class has expended in the majority of the Middle Eastern countries but at the same time it has shrunk in Egypt. The middle class has witnessed its most flourishing era after the revolution of the 23 July in 1952. The socialistic approach adopted by the government and the various laws and acts implemented such as the agricultural reform laws, the free educational system and the guaranteed employment system in the public sector helped this class to grow more and more. The government was controlling all aspects of the economic system and the majority of Egyptians during Nasser’s era belonged to the middle class. Following Nasser’s era, the Egyptian government has begun to move on to adopt the capitalistic approach. After years of controlling markets and curbing prices, markets were freed. This moved inflation and put more pressures on the budgets of the middle class. Even movies in the 1980s have begun to depict the problems of the middle class such as movies by the director Atef ElTayeb that really illustrate the emerging problems back then which began to face this class.
The sufferings of the middle class continued and even increased significantly during Mubarak’s era until the eruption of the 25 January Revolution. The middle class is the social class that feels all the problems and crises of Egyptian society the most. This might be one of the most important reasons why this class was the leader in the 25 January Revolution. The chronic problems of unemployment and inequality were felt the most by the middle class and due to the fact that people in this class usually enjoy high levels of education, they were in the front rows in Tahrir Square, where the 25 January Revolution erupted. The consequences of the 25th of January revolution have also affected the middle class the most. They suffered from losing jobs and the huge instability in the economic conditions that followed the revolution.
Today and almost six years after the 25 January Revolution, the middle class still suffers the most. Despite the good current governmental policies that focus on enhancing the living conditions of the poor and the most deprived classes in the slums, the middle class is still out of the picture. Decreased subsidies and current inflation rates put more pressures on the budgets of people in the middle class. These conditions may even move them down to the poor class and thus eradicate the efforts done by the government to reduce poverty. And even despite the efforts to increase wages in the public sector, inflation and unjustified increases in the prices of basic goods will eat up any increases gained. Moreover, the private and informal sectors are always left out of this formula.
So what is the solution to this missing middle problem? The answer is sound economy. No one is saying that the socialistic system must be back, but controlling prices should be one of the priorities of the government. The government should monitor the market to detect any ‘acts of greed and exploitation’ done by the producers and seek punishments. Enacting and enforcing laws that protect consumers are also crucial. Solving the chronicle problems of unemployment and poor educational systems will also help. And finally and most importantly is to achieve justice and equal opportunities for all people.
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