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Egyptians Wonder if Sissi Can Heal Egypt's Economic Woes

  • Heather Murdock

During his campaign, Egypt's president-elect Abdel Fattah el-Sissi promised to heal the nation's ailing economy. And while many Egyptians have high hopes for newfound safety and prosperity, Sissi has called on Egyptians to make sacrifices, warning it will take years to reform the economy.

After three years of upheaval and no clear economic program, however, it's unclear how much more such sacrifice they can take.

Once popular with tourists, this market has mostly local shoppers a few days after the presidential election. Sissi has been declared the winner. Pre-election pro-Sissi music still blares on the streets.

Locals say the tourism industry, like others in Egypt, has flat-lined [disappeared].

Poor business

Ahmed Alaa makes traditional boxes and games out of wood and mother-of-pearl. He said business has been bad since the 2011 revolution.

“Before the revolution we was working very much, and there were many tourists in Egypt. But after the revolution we feel very, very bad because the economy in Egypt - it’s not only the tourist [industry] -- everything is damaged and everything [has fallen] down," said Alaa.

Sissi’s ideas to improve the economy already were in play before the votes were counted. The government plans to cut subsidies and reduce the national deficit.

Mohammad Gad is a senior economic reporter at el-Sharouk, a prominent Egyptian newspaper. He said the plan could backfire, and a large reduction in fuel subsidies could cause even more unrest.

“To some degree this is an unprecedented move by the Egyptian state to deal with the subsidy, but without having a clear vision and alternative policies that would ease the economic pressure on both people in dire poverty and the middle class, it could bring down the social system," said Gad.

Despite widespread poverty, the incoming president has called for sacrifices from the Egyptian people, suggesting they eat less food, walk more and use less electricity to help their economy recover.

He said he will significantly improve the economy and the security situation within two years.

“The Egyptians expected a lot of things.During two revolutions they were aspiring for bread, freedom, social justice. The Egyptians wanted to live like this.I need to give them security and stability and complete development," said Sissi.

Limited patience

But activists say the Egyptian public will not wait two years for change.

Human rights worker Abdelrahman Hany said the public will lose patience.

“People will take to the streets for two reasons: first regarding Sissi, because he would not fulfill everything he promised regarding economic recovery, or take the first steps towards economic recovery," said Hany.

Sissi will be Egypt’s third president in three-and-a-half years after the last two were ousted following popular protests. Sissi, the former army chief and defense minister, has been running the country since the army imprisoned former president Mohamed Morsi last July.

Thousands of people have been killed or arrested since then, accused of being associated with Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite the turmoil, and an income of less than $150 a month, the wood craftsman Ahmed said for now he can live with some sacrifices.

“We need to work more and we need to give Egypt more because we can change the life, different than now, you know," he said.

Ahmed also worried that the people will not have the patience to wait for reforms. In the meantime, though, he hopes that at least with a real president in charge again, some tourists will return to his market.