Hosni Mubarak, the incumbent and favourite for the 7 September poll, has made job creation and improved wages the centrepiece of his campaign.

 

He has promised to create more than four million jobs over the next six years, as well as increase the wages of no less than five million workers by 75 to 100%.

 

In his detailed economic recovery plan, Mubarak also vowed to provide new housing to 500,000 low-income families, build 3500 schools, 500 bridges and 12,000km of roads.

 

Unemployment

 

The government puts the unemployment rate at 9.3%, but independent figures put it at 20%.

 

Nour has promised to free the
prisoners of poverty if elected

According to the Planning Ministry, a quarter of Egypt's 73 million inhabitants live on less than $2 a day.

 

Mubarak's main election rival, Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, has focused his campaign on rights and democracy but has nevertheless offered every jobless Egyptian a monthly assistance of $26 over the next two years.

 

"A job creation programme will simultaneously be set up as well as a mechanism to fight against corruption," he also said during a recent campaign rally.

 

Matching Mubarak's re-found compassion for the hardships of ordinary people, Nour vowed to "free the prisoners of poverty, those who cannot pay the credits on their refrigerators and gas stoves".

 

Rampant unemployment is aggravated by widespread nepotism and corruption. According to civil servants, much-coveted jobs in the administration can fetch up to $2500.

 

Bribes

 

"Every job now has a price: In the field of electricity, it's 3000 [Egyptian] pounds ($520), 5000 pounds in the judiciary," said Zaki Haidar, a 42-year-old civil servant in the impoverished region of Upper Egypt.

 

"Nepotism is everywhere, you have to pay 10,000 [Egyptian pounds] to 15,000 to get a job"

Samia Ali, who failed to enter the civil service

"These bribes are paid to the entourage of MPs who find jobs for you," he explained.

 

The same practices prevail in the northern delta region, said 29-year-old Samia Ali, who found a small job in a stationery shop after failing to enter the civil service.

 

"Nepotism is everywhere, you have to pay 10,000 [Egyptian pounds] to 15,000 to get a job," she said.

 

While economic growth for the fiscal year 2004-2005 soared to a record 5% and most other economic indicators were on the rise, the measures promised by Mubarak would require slashing subsidies and risk sending inflation skyrocketing.

 

Unrealistic promises

 

Mubarak's promises were quickly dismissed as unrealistic by some of his election rivals.

 

"Why hasn't Mubarak created all these jobs during the 24 years he already spent in power?" asked Wafd Party leader Numan Jumaa.

 

Several analysts pointed out that the ultra-liberal policies pushed by Mubarak's son Jamal were hardly compatible with the campaign's social commitments.

 

Critics say Mubarak's job creation
programme is unrealistic

 

Ahmad al-Najjar, an economy expert at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, argued that "if spending increases, deficit will also increase".

 

Egypt's national debt currently hovers between 120 and 130% of GDP.

 

"The job creation programme is simply not realistic. In 24 years, 291,000 jobs were created every year. How can we expect to see this figure double in only six years?" al-Najjar asked.

 

"This programme is a litany of hollow promises because its financing counts on banks and private investors and there is no guarantee that they will or can contribute," he added.

 

Many banks have huge assets locked up in government debt instead of being available to finance Mubarak's projects.