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Egyptian President Still Vague on How to Tackle 'Economic Crisis'

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The landslide election victory of Egypt's new president, former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has been heralded with great enthusiasm by the Egyptian masses and mainstream media, with many hoping that Al-Sisi will be able to solve Egypt's current crisis.

In a televised interview on 26 March, Al-Sisi, himself, said that he could not "perform miracles" although he emphasized that Egypt's failing economy and security stand at the top of the agenda.

However, the president has been reticent in explaining exactly what steps he intends to take to tackle these issues. So what exactly has Al-Sisi promised and how has the Egyptian media responded to his proposals?

Egypt's beleaguered masses

High unemployment, poverty and a rapidly expanding population are key issues to be tackled by president Al-Sisi.

By the end of 2013, Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) estimated that over 26 percent of the population live below the poverty line, living on less than two US dollars per day. Poverty in rural areas represents the greatest challenge, with two southern Egyptian governorates, Asyut and Qina, registering a poverty rate of 60 and 58 percent respectively.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has soared to 25 percent according to the World Bank Middle East Director Khalid Ikram.

These problems are exacerbated by a high population growth which, in 2014, CAPMAS estimated to be increasing by just under two percent annually.

Macroeconomic challenges

In December 2013, Minister of Industry, Munir Fakhri Abd-al-Nur, stressed that "Egypt is witnessing a huge economic crisis", with the budget deficit reaching 13.8 percent and general debt accounting for 100 percent of gross domestic product (GPD).

Annual inflation in 2013 was estimated to stand at 10 percent, while Egypt's currency devalued in 2013 by nine percent against the US dollar.

Security problems in the country have further exacerbated the economic situation as foreign investment declined along with tourism revenues. Tourism accounted for 11 percent of Egypt's economy under previous President Hosni Mubarak, a vital chunk of Egypt's GDP. The industry made six billion US dollars in 2013, compared with 13 billion US dollars in 2010, before the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. According to the Ministry of Tourism, only 9.5 million tourists arrived in Egypt in 2013, against 14.7 million in 2010.

Al-Sisi's promises

Al-Sisi became the object of almost cult-like popular devotion not long after he ousted former President Muhammad Morsi.

With his military background, Al-Sisi is seen by his supporters as the type of man needed to overcome the security and economic woes that have plagued the country since 2011.

Campaigning under the slogan "Long Live Egypt", Al-Sisi declared an ambitious plan to develop agriculture, housing, and education, and tackle unemployment and poverty. In a meeting with a delegation of members of the National Council for Population, Al-Sisi asserted that overpopulation is one of the most important problems facing Egypt.

He said such human force of Egyptian society could be utilized to realize a strong economic push in the coming years, pledging to address the need to provide jobs for the large numbers of youth joining the workforce every year and to reduce unemployment and poverty.

Media Portrayal

Mainstream local Egyptian media outlets have been overwhelming supportive of the new president, saying he has been "clear and accurate" when talking about Egypt's economic problems. This was reflected in media coverage of Al-Sisi's televised interview on 6 May.

An editorial of the state-run daily Al-Ahram on 9 May, entitled "Work with no limits" hailed Al-Sisi's interview, saying he was "clear, frank and extremely accurate when diagnosing the [economic] illnesses and did not ignore the treatment, which is working without limits so as to end the state of poverty".

In the privately-owned daily Al-Marsi al-Youm former head of the state run Egypt News Centre, Abd-al-Latif al-Minawi, said that Al-Sisi managed to "refute all the arguments claiming that he has no vision for the future and cannot reach to people". He added that "Al-Sisi's discourse was decisive and firm... and showed that he has a dream able to restore Egypt's status in the world".
However, during his election campaign, a few analysts criticized Al-Sisi for promising a lot but being extremely vague in outlining a concrete strategy.

Commenting on the same interview, Egyptian journalist and commentator Nadia Abu al-Magd told Qatari government-funded, pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera satellite TV on 7 May that Al-Sisi has been "empty and emotional" in his promises and that rather than presenting a well-defined electoral program, his statements were "vague" and "did not properly address the core economic issues that matter to the majority of Egyptians."

In the privately-owned daily Al-Shuruq, Salafist figure Nadir Bakkar argued on 9 May that the "strategic vision was absent from Al-Sisi's discourse during the interview". He pointed out that "such a strategic vision should include a plan with a clear timetable specifying what he intends to do during his four-year term".

Nonetheless, despite the media's largely positive spin on Al-Sisi's strategy, the president's current popularity will quickly diminish if the Egyptian people, who have endured three years of extraordinary hardship, do not see an improvement in their quality of life.