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Shaimaa Khalil

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Egypt's Challenge - Two Years After the Revolution

Posted: 24/04/2013 11:09

There's a joke now in Egypt that apart from the 'small' issues of politics, the economy and security, the revolution is doing just fine!

I'm an Egyptian journalist working for the BBC in London and I've been reporting on the tumultuous events in my country for the last two years.

In my new six-part BBC World Service series, Egypt's Challenge, I want to find out what post-revolutionary Egypt looks like. As it struggles to understand its new democracy I want to know what the main challenges facing my country are.

For the average Egyptian, politics is best left to those in power. It's the economy and security that matter most to people's everyday lives and it's these things that have been most affected in the two years since the January 25th revolution.

Even before the revolution, the economy was suffering; at least as far as ordinary Egyptians were concerned.

"Blaming those in power"

Two years on, unemployment has gone up and so has the budget deficit. Job creation is virtually non-existent and the Egyptian pound has lost much of its value. The foreign currency reserves have fallen dramatically and tourist numbers have gone through the floor.

Yes, it is as bleak as it sounds and you don't have to go far to see the effects.

On a busy main road in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, three long lanes of taxis and minibuses are parked on the road. They're not there because of Egypt's infamous traffic jams; this time the drivers are queued up outside a petrol station for diesel or Solar as it's known in Egypt. There's been a fuel shortage recently with reports saying that Egypt has run out of the hard currency it needs to import fuel.

Mohamed, a mini-bus driver tells me he sometimes has to wait overnight to get the subsidised fuel.

"I'm not blaming the revolution" he tells me.

"I'm blaming those in power" referring to President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and his government.

This subsidised diesel is vital to so many parts of the economy. For transport obviously, but also to the all-important bakeries, which make the subsidised bread so many Egyptian families rely on.

The two key words here are fuel and subsidies.

"The problem with the fuel subsidy is that now it has become a time bomb," Professor Samer Attalah, an economist at the American University of Cairo tells me.

"There has to be a mechanism for the government to provide fuel to these poor people without making these large queues or without creating this large deficit. And it's very, very tricky."

"There are no police in the streets"

But subsidies are not the only thing holding the economy back. Another reason is the lack of security.

The police used to rule the streets in Egypt - with a firm and often frightening hand. They may not have been popular but the complaint I hear time and again nowadays is that they've simply disappeared, leaving the streets to the thugs and criminals.

Hany is a street vendor selling the famous Egyptian foul, or beans, on a cart in the street. He tells me business has been bad these last two years.

"There are no police in the streets," he says.

"Even though the police used to give me a hard time and take my cart off the street, I still want them back because now I'm left to the mercy of thugs."

For sixteen months after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, Egypt was run by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), but their failure to run this transitional phase smoothly and their heavy handedness in dealing with protesters changed the military's image from the saviours of the revolution to the iron fisted oppressors.

But now, just a few months after the country's first democratic elections, there are open calls for the army to come back. The recent violence in the canal city of Port Said was the latest example of the army doing what the police are supposed to do, securing the streets.

"A fabricated crisis"

In my hometown Alexandria, the story is the same.

Like the rest of Egypt it's split between those who support the Islamists and President Morsi and those who feel that the Islamists are becoming too dominant a force in society.

"Just outside the main street there were many clashes and I used to hear gunfire," my grandmother tells me when I visit her house.

"So many people died. If you saw the mothers of those young men you'd feel very sorry for them", she tells me.

I asked my granny what she thought of President Morsi. "I don't think he's good," she says.

The government says people need to be patient. "We just need a bit of quietness," Mohamed Sudan of the Muslim Brotherhood tells me. He's a senior figure in the ruling Freedom and Justice Party.
He blames the demonstrators for creating an atmosphere of chaos that he says has been holding the country back.

As for the deteriorating economic situation and the lack of security, he says:

"It's a fabricated crisis. (There are) many conspiracies against Dr.Morsi.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not the enemy of the Egyptian people. Why divide the people belonging to the Islamic movement and un-Islamic movements?"

But the division is everywhere you look in Egypt.

Most clashes now are not between protesters and the police, they're between pro- and anti- Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators.

Taking to the streets in Egypt has become the common form of protest. More often than not the protests turn violent with the resulting deaths and injuries and a growing sense of chaos that shows little sign of abating.

But despite the gloom, I still felt a sense of hope, a sense of empowerment.

For the first time people are questioning authority without fear and voicing their anger about the way the country is run.

Everywhere I went I could see and hear people expressing themselves be it on the walls with graffiti or in the cafes where heated political discourse is flourishing.

As I take a walk by the sea in Alexandria, the sight of young girls splashing around in their colourful cotton dresses (women can't wear swim suits on public beaches) makes me smile.

Men sitting with their fishing rods remind me of my late father and his favourite hobby.

Shy young couples walking by the promenade don't seem to be worried about holding hands even with the Islamists in power.

And that all too familiar smell of grilled corn on the cob mixed with the smell of the sea - reassures me that despite all the troubles that my country and my hometown are grappling with, some things never change.

Egypt's Challenge begins on Tuesday 23rd April at 8pm BST on the BBC World Service. Listen online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00fvhsf

 

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