Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Asking for ‘a glimmer of hope’

People can bear deteriorating living conditions as long as there is a promise of better days ahead, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Mo'ez Street
Al-Ahram Weekly

“With each passing day life gets harder. It isn’t possible to keep pace with the price rises and I feel I cannot keep struggling to keep my head above water forever,” Zeinab Sabri, a 55-year-old housewife, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“I know that the country is passing through difficult times and we have to be patient but the fact is we have been passing through such times for years and years. Incomes are fixed, prices keep on rising and the result is debilitating frustration.”

Sabri added that she might feel better able to tolerate the hardships she faces if “I felt a positive change in the performance of Egypt’s governing bodies.”

Waleed Yassin, a 43-year-old assistant in a downtown clothing shop, finds it difficult to explain how he meets his obligations as a husband and the father of two children. Standing in front of his shop, which is empty of customers, he says he sees “not a glimmer of hope in the immediate future.”

According to a report by the Arab Monetary Fund released in September, inflation in Egypt is expected to rise to 11.5 percent in 2016, compared to a regional average of 7.8 per cent.

Egypt’s economy is suffering from a shortage of foreign reserves following four years of political turmoil. Currency reserves fell from $36 billion before the January uprising in 2011 to $18.1 billion in August 2015.

Inflation has been compounded by the removal of subsidies on energy products, raising transport costs and food prices, which represent 40 per cent of the consumer price index. The impact of the shortage of foreign currency has also contributed to rising prices, as has the devaluation of the Egyptian pound.

“Prices in general are rocketing. The cost of eating, drinking and transport is soaring. In real terms, incomes have fallen drastically. Ninety per cent of the people who come into the shop leave empty handed,” says Yassin.

“I used to get a LE28 monthly electricity bill. Nowadays it is around LE130, and I don’t have a single air conditioner. I no longer have confidence when I hear officials talking about reducing the burden on the average citizen. We had two revolutions and were promised change and yet living conditions keep on getting worse.”

Mabrouka Abdel-Aziz, a 51-year-old street hawker who sells scarves downtown, is a widow with seven children.

“It is a slow death,” she says of her living conditions. “My pension is LE450 a month, out of which I have to support all my children and somehow ensure they have a future.”

Abdel-Mageid Mamdouh, a 28-year-old pharmacist, is also fed up with the ongoing economic crisis.

“I hate how living conditions deteriorate month after month. I think the only way out is to somehow find a job abroad,” says Mamdouh, who works at a pharmacy in Nasr City.

“In a few days I will turn 30,” says Ahmed Magdi. “Yet I can’t even dream of marriage. I can’t find a job. We made two revolutions, what else can we do, a third?”

Young people account for 23.6 of Egypt’s population. According to a 2015 report issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) in August, 26.3 per cent of young people are unemployed and 24.1 per cent live under the poverty line.

Ahmed Samir, 32, worked in the tourism sector for several years but was forced to find a new job when tourism collapsed.

“Now my pay is that of a fresh graduate. I feel I am starting everything from scratch and am close to despair,” said Samir. “My father is unwell, and family responsibilities weigh heavy on me. I really do not know what I can do.”

Tourism has collapsed since the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The recent crash of a Russian plane in Sinai is likely to be one more nail in the coffin of a once-thriving industry that was mainstay of the economy.

Others, though, sound a more positive note.

“It is our duty towards the homeland to be patient,” says Mahmoud Al-Sakka, a 52-year-old pensioner. “It’s not an option but a must for Egyptians to be tolerant until living conditions improve.”

After living 20 years in the US, Al-Sakka now has US citizenship. “I have the option to live in America but I prefer to be in Egypt and so I live here.”

Khalil, 58, also thinks people must be more optimistic. “We have suffered from oppression for long and revolted twice in four years. Now we have no choice but to shoulder the hardships we are facing,” said Khalil, taking a break from reading a newspaper in a downtown cafe.

Close to the cafe, Sabri Al-Saggan, a 61-year-old used bookseller, is reading one of his books. “President Al-Sisi hasn’t completed his second year in office. We cannot judge him yet,” says Al-Saggan.

Others said they are willing to put up with current hardships as long as there is a glimmer of hope that economic conditions will improve.

“These days I walk in the streets talking to myself. We had hopes for improved economic circumstances after the state announced major projects such as the new Suez Canal and the huge offshore natural gas discovery in the Mediterranean. Then, after all the fanfare, officials quietly say it will take years before any projects bear fruit,” Mohamed Hisham, a 55-year-old state employee, tells the Weekly.

“Well, I can wait. But I think the president should offer us a timeline. We cannot live on empty promises.”

He adds, “I work hard and can barely support my family. And I know if one of them falls sick we will have to resort to a government hospital where we will face incompetence and begligence.”

Mohamed Kamel, a 60-year-old shoe polisher in Ramsis Street, believes everyone needs to work harder to effect a transformation in Egypt’s economic prospects.

“When I see the government and the people working harder then I’ll have faith in a better tomorrow. Until now I haven’t seen it though,” he says.

Hussien, 41, prepares tea and coffee for microbus drivers. He declined to give his second name. He thinks he will be able to survive “if only the police let me work freely.”

Says Hussien, “I’m not stealing or asking for money. I just do my work to feed my children.”

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