Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 October - 31 November 2012
Issue No. 1120
Press review
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Social media

By Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Getting to know you

Over the last two years social networks have been the battlefield for political debates among millions of Egyptians. However, in the last few months many groups on Facebook have wanted to stimulate the discussion on domestic tourism. Last week, the 'Egypt is beautiful' page, published a list of touristic sites in Cairo and three governorates -- Fayoum, Minia and Marsa Matrouh. On the page which has more than 20,000 fans, many Egyptians debated creative ways to promote these places and encourage Egyptians to visit.

Mohamed Magdi suggested starting a project in cooperation with the Ministry of Education to urge thousands of elementary and secondary school students to visit one these governorates every Thursday.

"If each governorate starts to motivate its elementary and secondary school students to visit one of its touristic places every week, the trip would cost LE10 for each student, which means that more than LE20 million will go to the tourism industry every week," he said.

Magdi added that the plan should be designed by specialists in order to make it interesting for school students. Rami Hassan, who liked Magdi's proposal, said that the idea might also help students to know more about their country and enhance their patriotism.

Another Facebook page, 'The Egyptian Campaign to Stimulate Domestic Tourism', created by a group of young Egyptians, used another technique to encourage Egyptians to visit touristic places in their cities. Every week the admins of the page go on a trip to one of Egypt touristic hot spots, take pictures, and post them on the page with a story about their experience.

The technique encouraged many people to visit tourism sites in their cities and spend some time there during their weekend.

"The next place we will go to is the Religious Complex, in old Cairo. We will visit the Hanging Church and Coptic Museum as well as Ben Ezra Synagogue. Be there this Friday at 10am. Before you come do your homework about the place to share information with the rest of the group," said the admin of the page.

The group also offers free advice for families and groups on planning trips through a group of volunteers. The group also gives advice on the best hotel rates, transportation and food prices.

Avoid the Iranian experience

In her blog 'Rebel Economy', Farah Halime, an experienced economy reporter, analyses the new plan by Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's government to restructure subsidies that cost the country LE120 billion annually. Last week the minister of petroleum revealed some details of the plan. Each car, according to the plan, with a maximum 1.6 litre engine, would be allocated around 1,800 litres of subsidised fuel a year, enough to travel 60km (40 miles) per day, a "suitable estimate for average daily consumption of private cars in Egypt," the minister said. Private cars use 80-, 90- and 92-grade gasoline. Halime argued in her post that the plan does not solve the problem as it will give the poor and rich the same amount of the subsidy. At the same time the implementation of this plan would increase strikes and protests in Egypt. Here is what she wrote:

In the government's new plan, both rich and poor receive the same allocation of subsidised fuel and would then pay a higher price for additional amounts consumed. It is back tracking from the coupon system that was discussed only last week.

The Egyptian government's plan is similar to Iran's 2010 subsidy enforcement where "clusters" of society were handed out cash payments according to their income. Most people received the same amount, and those who needed more, would pay for more. However, the pressure on the economy from a combination of economic sanctions and poor economic management forced Iran to rethink the second phase of subsidy reforms.

Here are a few risks and challenges facing Egypt's subsidy plan, taking Iran as an example:

- Protests may take place if the government does not communicate its plan well. Those who need subsidies the most may panic and take to the streets blaming the government for looking out for its own debt rather than its people.

- If cash payments are used, how will these be distributed when most of the real economy is informal? How will millions of people register and make sure they get the right allocation? When Egypt's bureaucracy struggles to digitise key statistics such as exports, how will it formalise all the plus-80 million living in Egypt? Egypt must come up with a reliable centralised system that represents a real gauge of its population.

- Related to the above, if there is no reliable centralised system of data sharing that creates a reliable gauge of family income, how will the government ensure payments are allocated to all and to where it is needed? Even with a centralised system in place in Iran, cash payments began to be funnelled through various welfare institutions because not everybody registered themselves.

- The risk of misappropriation and the development of a black market is extremely likely, especially considering that today we see a black market of gas cylinders in which even very cheap fuel is available. The need to ensure everyone gets the payment they are entitled is crucial.

- Finally, what Egypt proposes is not a targeted subsidy, which is an easy way to solve a big problem but disregards the massive income differences in Egypt.

Egypt must therefore do it right and learn from Iran's mistakes.

tweets

Morsi 10 useless trips abroad in 120 days in power just for announcing "I am the new sheriff in town" at the state expense. @Tarik Salama

Blasphemy cases have jumped from one or two per year under Mubarak to at least 18 under Morsi. @Mohamed Mohsen

At any time of day, traffic is almost at a standstill. How can Morsi claims that 70% of our traffic problems have been solved? @Ranya Khalifa

Egypt official says Israel may oppose Qatari aid to Gaza. Sure it does. If Israel would be able to bar O2 it would. @occupied Palestine

We didn't start revolution so that our children r jailed on trumped up political charges nor to have them abused by deranged teachers. @Mona El-Tahawy

Always proud of my Ultras. They are the definition of persistence, loyalty, courage and passion. Will always be their support. @ShereenT

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