Economic woes bolster Egypt opposition

Egypt's economic woes have emboldened opposition to President Muhammad Husni Mubarak government.

    The Egyptian pound has lost 26 percent against the dollar

    Political opponents have been raising their voices, denouncing an array of issues from corruption to lack of freedoms and cultural stagnation.

    Analysts and observers say the tone of the criticism has been unprecedented since Mubarak rose to power in 1981.

    "There is discontent and impatience. A look at the internet is enough to see it is  boiling over in the country," said Salama Ahmad Salama, an editorialist at the state-owned newspaper al-Ahram, referring to opposition web sites.

    The latest attack on the authorities came from the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group. Last week, the organisation's leader, Maamun al-Hudaibi, said corruption had spread to all government institutions, fuelled by a "suffocating economic crisis" that he attributed to "political stagnation."

    The pound value

    The depreciation of the Egyptian pound "has led to a horrific
    increase in the number of poor people," he added, speaking at an iftar, the Ramadan meal at sunset.

    He said the Egyptian population was now split between a "wide majority that can barely find its daily bread, and a minority which monopolises wealth and power," and warned the situation was dangerous. 

    Queuing outside of bakeries
    raise fears of  "bread riots"

    The pound lost 26% of its value against the dollar after it was free-floated in late January. The government acknowledged that the move caused a higher than expected increase in the cost of living at a time when the economy was running slow for a fourth year in a row. 

    Estimates from government officials for inflation range between 4 and 6.5%, but trade unions say it is much higher. 

    Last month, queues appeared in front of bakeries, prompting the government to take swift measures to end a shortage of flour affecting subsidised bread, even if it meant widening the government deficit. 

    The lines of angry people outside bakeries raised fears of "bread riots" similar to those which erupted in 1977 when the
    government announced it would reduce subsidies. 

    Demanding reform

    "Everybody is talking about the higher cost of living, it gives a boost to the opposition"

    Mustafa Kamal al-Sayyed, lecturer at Cairo University

    On 22 October, Egyptian opposition parties and human rights groups demanded Interior Minister Habib al-Adli's resignation after his ministry banned a rally called to release a petition demanding

    radical political reform. 

    The petition calls for a reform of the constitution, limiting
    the tenure of a president to two terms and requiring that the head of state be elected by universal suffrage rather than by
    referendum. 

    The opposition is becoming more vocal because it thinks it has the backing of the population, said political analyst Mustafa Kamal al-Sayyid, a lecturer at Cairo University. 

    "Everybody is talking about the higher cost of living, it gives
    a boost to the opposition," he said. 

    Egyptian monarchy

    The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) announced at a congress in September that it would press for reforms.  But the NDP pledge was interpreted as a confirmation of the influence of one of Mubarak's sons, Gamal, who is being increasingly talked about as a potential successor to the 75-year-old president. 

    In an unpopular move, Gamal
    Mubarak might succeed father

    According to Sayyid, the prospect of a dynastical succession is unpopular. "The idea that Egypt becomes a monarchy is not accepted," he said. 

    He believes that US pressure for reform in the Arab world, including in allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is also playing a
    role in "encouraging the opposition." 

    Editorialist Salama described the political situation in Egypt as "uneasy." "There is a kind of a political stagnation. The change suggested by the NPD is very slow," he said. "In fact, there is nothing in sight." 

    SOURCE: AFP


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