During our recent event on Egypt, POMED asked four experts what they see as the greatest challenge to the country’s stability ten years after the fall of the Mubarak regime. Here are their responses, edited for clarity.
One of the biggest threats to Egyptian stability is population growth, and the fact that Egypt has no serious program to get this under control. At the same time, there is no serious job generation, and the wealthy Gulf countries have diminishing ability to absorb Egypt’s excess labor. A second challenge is the narrowness of al-Sisi’s regime and how many fewer civilian stakeholders it has than previous regimes did. Al-Sisi is trying to develop civilian employees of the regime but not real stakeholders in the business community, in government institutions, and so forth. There is a flexibility and balancing needed to govern Egypt that al-Sisi shows no signs of having.
Ezzedine C. Fishere
Egypt’s biggest challenge is its authoritarian model of governance. Egypt is an underdeveloped country with problems that are not easy to fix. It has a leader who is trying to do something extremely ambitious, which is to transform a country whose tools of governance are not working, using a military that was not designed to do governance, and against the backdrop of a doubtful financial situation. This leader is antagonizing all political forces and large segments of society, including the youth. If all this comes crashing down, the negative repercussions will be huge.
The biggest challenge facing Egypt is the threat of water scarcity. Egypt needs 114 billion cubic meters of water per year. Ninety-seven percent of this water comes from outside of the country, which is a huge vulnerability. There is a complete lack of transparency in government decision-making and budget allocation. For example, the minister of agriculture announced that $15 million has been allocated for water management projects over the next five years, while the cost of the Cairo Eye ferris wheel project would cost $31 over two years. Scarcity is at the heart of every conflict, and water scarcity may be the major cause of a conflict that may start with farmers and have wider implications. Would al-Sisi still resort to a security solution in this case?
Egypt’s biggest challenge comes down to the state’s money: where does it come from and where does it go? The al-Sisi regime is based on the proposition that Egypt is too big to fail and therefore that the world will continue to support it financially. But there are serious questions regarding regime sustainability in the face of a global financial crisis. Egypt’s foreign debt position is extremely vulnerable. Foreign direct investment is limited to hydrocarbons and real estate investment, which create few jobs. As for where the money goes, it is not being distributed fairly. The regime is not investing in public services, education, or health care. Sectors that according to the 2014 constitution are supposed to receive at minimum between three to four percent of annual GDP do not. Seventy percent of Egyptians are living on less than five and a half dollars a day.
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