Neighbors/ Egypt's Post-revolution Blues

Mere months after forcing Mubarak out, the country's youth are struggling to implement real democracy, and are facing a deepening economic morass.

The porters at Cairo's airport now have an additional, lucrative occupation - changing money for the Egyptian citizens fleeing from Libya. The occupation is officially forbidden by law, but who cares.

The peddlers next to Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital are also a new addition to the Egyptian cityscape. Before the revolution, police protected the shopkeepers by pushing the peddlers away. Now the owners complain that since the revolution, their earnings have plummeted because of the hawkers.

Egypt revolution

Their complaints aren't making much headway, since the police are on a partial strike. The police fear taking action against citizens, even red-handed criminals, for fear that a demonstration will immediately break out or the public will attack them.

At the same time, the demands of the senior brass to improve the pay of the policemen are increasing; many of the policemen have not returned to work since the protests but get a salary even though they are not working.

"The fear of the security forces that dissipated during the demonstrations is now going in different directions," wrote Mohamed el-Baaly on the home page of the April 6 Youth Movement, which was the main force that instigated the protests. "The public no longer fears the law."

But the April 6 Movement too has begun grasping that the revolution has many faces and that the romanticism and unity of the protests might not work in the real world.

The movement's leaders announced last week that they were breaking away "finally and totally" from the unofficial coalition of young people of the revolution. The coalition had served as an umbrella for all the movements during the protests and aspired to translate the popular uprising into an alternate political framework.

The activists of April 6 explained that the step was necessary since the "coalition" had not succeeded in unifying all the movements and had failed to convince them to adopt one line of action or find a common political denominator.

However it seems that the real reason for their resignation was the decision of the coalition's leadership to support those very members who had been expelled from the ranks of April 6.

A long list of complaints about the results so far of the revolution can be found on the movement's home page. One of the central complaints is that the new government that was set up after the protests "is a civilian branch of the army instead of being a revolutionary government."

This finds expression, among other things, in the appointment of district governors, most of whom come from the ranks of the army.

"I estimate that the army is aiming to establish a lighter version of the Mubarak regime," el-Baaly wrote, " a version that will have less corruption but no less control, so as to maintain the economic achievements of the army."

Democracy will end up taking a backseat, since it will be difficult for the army to accept the principle that no one is above the law, he explained.

El-Baaly also warns that army brass could face a mutiny by junior officers and regular soldiers, who were left destitute while the top guns got rich. The only way to prevent a revolt in the army, he says, is through new elections to all the institutions and especially through holding early elections to the presidency so that the regime can be put fully in civilian hands.

Together with this, the Egyptian government and the military leadership themselves have provided details of the difficulties involved in ensuring a speedy improvement of the economic situation. According to a report by the World Bank, Egypt's economy this year is expected to grow by a mere 2.3 percent, as opposed to a rate of five to seven percent during the years of Mubarak's regime.

The Egyptian government has already begun negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to get a loan of some three or four billion dollars and it is hoping that the Kuwaiti Development Fund, which sends Egypt an annual sum of $200 million, will increase it by some $100 million this year.

Egypt's new finance minister, Samir Radwan, made clear just how difficult Egypt's economic situation is during a meeting with Egyptian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. He reported that Egypt is in need of $2 billion in May and June just to maintain the level of its budgetary deficit. If not, the deficit could swell to $10 billion.

Radwan reported that the paralysis in the tourism trade was causing Egypt a deficit of $1 billion a month, that exports had dropped by some 40 percent, and that the rate of the budgetary deficit was likely to be more than nine percent next year (as compared with 7.9 percent before the revolution ).

An original, if totally impractical, way to improve Egypt's economic situation was found by Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud Zidan, who submitted a legal suit against the prime minister, finance minister and foreign minister, demanding that they freeze the payment of Egypt's debts to the countries to which the profits from the corruption of the senior officials of the previous regime were smuggled. Zidan estimated that the sum amounts to several trillions of dollars that were sent out of Egypt and invested or deposited in foreign countries and said that it would be correct for Egypt to demand the money back or have it deducted from its debts to those countries.

The numbers will have implications for the parliamentary elections that are expected to take place in September when the candidates will not only have to promise wonders but also to explain how they will fulfill them.

Among the issues that will be put to the test will be the promise to raise minimum wage, compensation for businessmen whose businesses were damaged during the protests, job creation for hundreds of thousands of people, and granting easy loans to young people for setting up a business or buying an apartment.

If no leader can come through on these promises, a new wave of protests is likely to break out.