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Egypt's Politics Move Ahead, Economy Lags Behind

Mohamed Said Zaki believes Egypt lurches from one crisis to the next, Zagazig, Egypt, April 2012 (E. Arrott - VOA)
Mohamed Said Zaki believes Egypt lurches from one crisis to the next, Zagazig, Egypt, April 2012 (E. Arrott - VOA)

ZAGAZIG, Egypt - Egyptian voters are making their final choices in the first post-revolution presidential election. Many Egyptians say the electoral process will not resolve the issue at the top of people's minds, however, and that is the sorry state of the economy.

Egypt's revolution bears fruit this month with the nation's first widely-contested presidential election. But another force behind last year's uprising - economic discontent - has yet to be eased.

For some, there is no end in sight. Mohamed Said Zaki is among the estimated 25 percent of Egypt's youth who are unemployed. He said he doesn't know where the country is headed. "We come out of one crisis to go into another."

Rising prices unchecked

At a market in the Delta town Zagazig, northeast of Cairo, business is tough for vegetable vendor Nagy el Din Osman. He said that after the revolution, prices soared and there was no monitoring or controls.

Part of the problem is that in the chaos of the last year, black marketeers have made fortunes from subsidized goods. Zaki said average Egyptians now face shortages. He said he can't get such basic commodities as a loaf of bread or a canister of gas.

It's not just individual Egyptians who are hurting. The nation's debts are mounting, foreign reserves are dropping, and every flare-up of political protest delays recovery in the key tourism industry.

Western-oriented economists say the nation needs an injection of foreign cash to push through the crisis, but distrust of foreign powers runs deep. A survey earlier this year indicated a majority of Egyptians don't want U.S. help.

Accusations of rampant corruption

More to the point, say some, Egypt is rich enough on its own. Corruption, they argue, is the problem.

Zaki said the country has lots of resources, but he argued they are not equally distributed.

Most candidates have promised to stamp out the cronyism and favoritism that marked the economy under the old government. But their economic platforms, for the large part, remain generalities. And even for those with concrete plans, without a constitution it remains unclear how much power the next president will even wield.

The promise of a better life under new leaders was one of the implicit promises of Egypt's revolution. Abdel Hamid Sayed, a retiree sitting in a Zagazig cafe, has heard a lifetime of promises.

As he pointed to the waiters and the patrons nearby, he said all that was needed is that these poor people could make a living. That's all we need, he added, from the president or anyone.