THE BLOG

What Is Missing About Egypt?

There is no good news about Egypt in the Western media, academic papers and policy briefs. Theorizing about the country is abundant, however. Michael Hanaa of the Century Foundation summarized "Egypt Next Phase" as being "Sustainable Instability." Eric Trager in Foreign Affairs was less merciful; he wrote about "Egypt's Durable Misery." Wander around the Independent or the New York Times, the Guardian or the Washington Post, and you will find an ugly state of affairs in a country that had an autocratic past, a highly repressive present and a failed future -- a horrifying picture of violence, endemic poverty, and intolerant culture is prevailing. Gone are the days of the "Arab Spring" and the "Lotus Revolution"; and the replacement is much less than fortunate.

Somehow Egypt is separated from its environment, with almost no relationship between the Muslim Brothers and different brands of terrorism; between ISIS and Ansar Beit Al Maqdis in Sinai. The entire sad saga of violence and terror in Egypt is merely a byproduct of "root causes" of repression and military rule. Terrorists are not called terrorists but rather they are called "Islamic Militant Insurgency" or "Jihadist Insurgency." The insinuation will go as far as to claim entire episodes of violence as nothing but a reflection of beduins' wrath over a government that has given them nothing but poverty and marginalization.

But neutrality and objectivity of the media and policy experts are not extended to realities like that. The Sinai terrorism is only centered on less than 20 square km in the northeast of the peninsula of 61,000 square km close to Gaza's tunnel-infested borders. In Egypt terrorists failed completely to have a territorial base as they succeeded in doing in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. In Egypt, fortunately, there is no Ramadi, nor Palmira, which were taken from American trained soldiers and while the fight included an international alliance led by the United States. In fact, while the fight against terrorists in northeastern Sinai was taking place, South and East of Sinai were living in peace with tourist occupancy of 90 percent in Sharm El Shikh as a result of an 7.5 percent increase in tourism in the first half of 2015. Those tourists are served by one third of the Sinai population of 450,000. The other two thirds are dispersed between the north and northwest areas, Middle Sinai and the Suez Canal Zone. Those affected by the fight in Shiekh Zuied and Rafah are no more than 50,000, few of whom were involved in the tunnel smuggling operations and hence cooperating with terrorists. The rest are under the Egyptian forces' protection.

Of course there is no denial here that Egypt is going through a serious battle with terrorism in Sinai, where about 51 percent of operations are taking place, and in the heartland of the country where terrorists are taking the opportunity of targeting the soft targets of the country from civilian individuals to infrastructure to army and security forces. However, what is missed in the news is that Egypt is taking this fight with a motto: Egypt is going to build itself as if there is no confrontation with terrorism; and it is going to fight terrorism as if there is no need for developing the country and taking it out of the miserable state of affairs that has been produced by revolutions and Muslim Brothers' rule.

Nothing shows this wisdom as well as the scene of the battle between Egyptian armed forces and terrorists affiliated with Daesh. There, the final touches on the New Suez Canal Branch were almost finished. The Canal will be opened for international trade on August 6, probably while the battle of terror is raging somewhere in the country. What is important about the new Suez Canal is not only that Egypt was changing its geography, probably the world also, in a way, but that Egypt was surging into a new phase of its history. The Suez Canal has been expanded not by Western or even Arab money, but by investment of the Egyptian people who invested EGP64 billion or $8 billion in less than a week.

In fact, contrary to the prevailing views about Egypt, and despite terrorism, Egypt has witnessed economic recovery in the post-June 30th 2013 revolution. The testimonies came from the World Bank, the IMF, and three financial agencies: Moody's (twice), Fitch, and Standard and Poor's. None of these will tell you that Egypt has finally overcome about four years of revolutionary upheavals and even is coming back to where it was pre-January 25, 2011. However, they will tell that the course of recovery is there and the news about Egypt's permanent instability and misery is "highly exaggerated." Others will indicate that Egypt's growth rate in the year 2014/2015 has grown by 4.7% compared to 1.6% two years ago. In the first half of the year the growth rate was 5.6% compared with 1.2% a year before.

In 2014, the financial market in Egypt was declared as the fastest growing in the world. Tourism, a sector that has been devastated by revolutions and terror, has come close to the 10 million mark with revenues of $5.5 billion. FDI is also back in the oil and gas sector by BP ($12 billion in five years 2015-2020) and Eni ($5 billion during the same period), Siemens in electricity and infrastructure projects, plus plenty of real state development and infrastructure projects by Arab and international developers. The net FDI to Egypt in 2014/2015 reached $5.7 billion. Egypt's external debt has declined from $45,288 billion in 2014 to $39,853. What is amazing about the Egyptian economy is that its survival and the start of recovery, contrary to the prevailing view, was not only because of Arab help, but because of Egyptians' trust and willingness to participate in building their country. In 2012/2013 remittances to Egypt were close to $19 billion, $23.1 billion in 2013/2014, and $16.9 in 2014/2015. During the the same last year, weddings increased in Egypt by 4.9 percent, not a usual practice in a country that is suffering from "Sustainable Instability" or "Durable Misery."

Again, none of the above should mislead anyone that Egypt is finally getting to economic safety. Public debt still very alarming when it reached in 2014/2015 to more than EGP 2 trillion from EGP 1.7 trillion in 2013/2014. Public debt has reached 93 percent of GDP. Also, the budget deficit is no less alarming at 10.7 percent of GDP in 2014/2015. It is true it is much better than it was at 14 percent during President Mohamed Morsi's year in office 2012/2013; but it will make the government target of reducing it to less than 9 percent in the coming year more wishful thinking than real.

Yet the good news about Egypt should be noted to at least put into perspective the bad news, which stems from regional and international challenges rather than from the domestic politics of the country. There is no doubt that Egypt is going at a real war with battle-hardened terrorists that are making global alliances. Looking at this serious challenge from the perspective of repression and human rights is actually ignoring the "fascist moment" that the region is going through in the post-Arab spring era. In facing such challenges excessive use of force and trespassing the boundaries of law should be noted and questioned. However, the blame of the victims should not exceed the crimes of the criminals.

At a minimum the truth should be told. The facts should not be missed. The repetition of Human Rights Watch's claim that 46,000 persons are incarcerated in Egypt ignores the reality that Egypt has no prisons to take that number. Ignoring the fact that Egypt, a country now close to 90 million, has only political prisoners and no criminal ones is an enormous fallacy. Actually, a comparison with the USA, where one of every 100 persons of the adult population is incarcerated, will make the claimed Egyptian number reasonable. But fortunately, that is not the case and the total prison population in Egypt is no more than ten thousand. Similarly is the case with journalists, which is rightly so defended by the Western media. However, deciding that the number of incarcerated journalists on the tens or hundreds is an overblown fallacy, especially when the word "journalist" is not defined. Not every one who has a website or a page on Facebook is a journalist. In Egypt, the definition of a journalist is one who practices journalism and is a member of the press syndicate. And those are slightly less than 7,000. Those among them incarcerated are eight and they are defended by the syndicate and should be released. Others should be judged according to their case, and according to the law. Claiming to be The Head of the Independent Electronic Journalism, as one did, without an address, headquarters, bank account, a record and legal registration will make it impossible to distinguish between the real and the hoax.

Why is it too hard to tell the truth about Egypt?