The picture I’m about to draw is not very appealing, as it depicts something of the gloom and doom that must be bared prior to focusing on today’s achievements.
Egypt had reached a peak of stagnation even prior to the 25 January 2011 Revolution. Very little if anything was being done about healthcare, education, informal settlements and other challenges that hungered for attention. Most of the revenue coming in went towards serving the debt that paid for subsidies and keeping the country afloat. Progress and development had reached a grinding halt and had been curtailed by bureaucracy, corruption and indifference. The status quo seemed set to outlive us all.
Egypt was slowly drifting towards an abyss. Then came the 25 January Revolution that resulted in further chaos. The repercussions involved a lack of tourism revenue and foreign investment, insecurity across the board and overall economic disaster. The country’s foreign reserves fell from $36 billion to $14 billion. By 2013, according to the UK newspaper The Guardian, Egypt was suffering its worst-ever economic crisis.
Change came in the leadership in 2013. But we weren’t out of the woods yet; in fact, the course was fraught with dangers, and it had become clear that major reforms would have to be implemented. We were also facing far-reaching perils. Terrorism came from across the country’s borders as well as from within, with premeditated efforts to wreak havoc and instill fear amongst all Egyptians. Vicious ambushes took place at military barracks, security points, mosques, churches and government buildings, and hundreds of people died.
We were, and we remain, surrounded by countries that are forced to side with other powers and comply with their wishes, including Libya, Sudan, Syria and the Gaza Strip. We remain neutral and seldom get involved in other countries’ affairs unless our own security is at risk. But this entails costly safeguarding measures.
We were, and are, also facing the kind of population growth that would choke any country and devour any achievements. Every year, one million students graduate from Egyptian universities and start looking for jobs. Every year, 23 million school students call for better schooling and a decent upbringing, not to mention better healthcare and a safer environment.
More importantly, a blasé stance seemed to have appropriated the Egyptian mentality before the 25 January Revolution. Many people seemed to be indifferent to others and to their country. It was a case of my way or the highway for many as far as anger control, beliefs, personal judgements, awareness and behaviour in terms of driving or not throwing litter about were concerned. And the list went on. Complacency had become the name of the game. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
It seemed that nothing – no leadership, no innovative thinking, no arduous efforts, no real feeling for the nation – was capable of holding us together and moving us forward. And yet we were moving forward with speedy steps, and the spirit and exuberance involved in the changes that were taking place were quite phenomenal.
In order to counter the disheartening picture described above, colossal efforts had to be made in every corner of Egypt. The economy, infrastructure, education, healthcare, the army and intelligence, border security, culture and dozens of other areas would have to be involved. The speed with which these efforts have since been made has stood as proof that Egyptian people can work hard and accomplish enormous amounts. We are no longer the smug and lazy folk we might have been in yesteryear.
So where are we today? We have moved forward and realised our potential for growth and development. In terms of the economy, despite the floatation of the pound, the reduction of the subsidies, and the various economic burdens that many have had to suffer, the country’s foreign reserves now stand at $45 billion, unemployment is down to 7.6 per cent, and the inflation rate is down to three per cent, the lowest it has been in decades.
In December 2016, the dollar reached an all-time high of LE19.90; today, it stands at LE15.74 having lost over 15 per cent of its value against the pound. The unachievable is being achieved.
Despite worries about threats from across our borders and the conspiracies of other powers, our security apparatus has seen outstanding modernisation and is now powerfully combating terrorism, securing the country’s borders, and protecting the public, infrastructure and Egypt’s historical and religious sites. Foreign tourists have come back in force, and hotel occupancy rates are very healthy, proving that Egypt is safe and well protected.
Though many may still grumble and hope for more, most appreciate what has been done and see that Egypt is definitely on the rise. Today, many more people treasure the glorious land they live in, realising how lucky they are to do so and appreciating the security that has been attained and the efforts that have been made in attaining it. Some may continue to focus on the negative, but in Egypt by far the majority see the positive.
We are still adding 2.5 million people to the population every year. This population growth has been very difficult to curb, and it will remain a thorn in Egypt’s side. People must realise that every individual counts, and everyone must do his or her part. We must all cooperate and work hand-in-hand to bring about change for the better.
Dozens of new cities are being established across Egypt that will create new communities in the less-congested areas. Sinai will be welcoming millions of people in the near future, with its new projects, easy access and intense focus on improving the lives of those living there bringing new hope for many. Yet, unless further measures are made to help everyone understand the dangers of the country’s ballooning population, many of these efforts may evaporate into thin air.
It has been 68 years since the 23 July 1952 Revolution and nine since 25 January 2011. Six years have passed since the 30 June Revolution. The Egyptian people have accomplished in the last six years far more than what was accomplished in the earlier 62, and they have rendered many of the deficiencies of the previous era obsolete.
These are accomplishments that many people had earlier imagined to be barely possible.
The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.