The Greatest Threat to Egypt's Revolution: Money

Egypt may be stumbling toward democracy, but with the economy failing and state coffers drained, a lack of funds may yet undo the gains of the past year.

A year has passed since the first giant demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo and one Egyptian screenwriter's harsh words serve to sum up the feelings of many Egyptians.

"This is a state without a real ruler, a state where the law is beaten over the head with an iron bar," lamented Wahid Hamed recently in an article in the daily newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm. "A state where the people suddenly awakened and immediately fell back into a coma. A state that brought about a revolution, and then saw to murdering it without feeling the crime. A state where the forbidden is allowed, which eats what is rotten and is satisfied with that, which advocates corruption and is accepting of robbers and murderers - this is a state that deserves to be in the disgrace in which it is living now."

Egyptians - AP - 04012012

President Hosni Mubarak was deposed, but the catharsis has been slow in coming. His trial has been postponed yet again, and the state is still being run by the army, which Hamed equates with "Sheikh Hosni."

And the discord is only growing, observes philosopher Hassan Hanafi.

"As though the disagreements and splits between secular and religious, between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, between those demanding ratification of the constitution before the elections and those demanding its postponement were not enough," he said, "now we have disagreement among the various factions within the revolutionary movement."

It seems that Egypt is still experiencing aftershocks since the revolution. The army is solving problems on an ad hoc basis, like the hasty construction of 6,000 apartments for the poor out of the defense budget, allotting land for building chicken coops or promising to reduce the customs duty on car imports. But the measures are just a temporary salve for a state in dire need of money.

While the Egyptian stock market is hitting unprecedented lows, the government is seeking help from the International Monetary Fund. A few months ago the Supreme Military Council issued an order not to enlarge Egypt's debts, which stand at $32 billion, but reality may prove those words empty.

A pay increase of 15 percent to government workers, the need to repay debts to suppliers and the cessation of income from tourism are now forcing the government to conduct negotiations for an additional $3 billion loan, and nothing has yet been said about plans to hire a million unemployed people or to rescue about a third of the country's citizens from below the poverty line.

The newspaper Al Ahram, which this year changed from being the government's mouthpiece into being the defender of the revolution, has run a series of reports detailing the dire state of the Egyptian health system. If before the revolution health care was dangerously poor, now patients "have to lie on the hospital floor and wait for a doctor."

The government's expenditures on medical care have plummeted by 50 percent, and though the number of doctors has increased to 105,000, in 2011 the number of patients rose to 54 million as compared to 45 million in the previous year.

These figures do not begin to describe the suffering of the millions of citizens who have to face the medical committees that decides whether they will receive medical treatment at the state's expense or will have to borrow money from their family for that purpose. The medical committees issue about 5,000 treatment authorizations monthly, amounting to about 200 million Egyptian pounds, and some greased palms or friends in high places can help a patient get approved.

The real problem threatening Egypt is the tremendous gap between the supposed progress toward democracy, with free speech on the rise and elections and a constitution in the works, and the reports on the miserable day to day life of its citizens.

The greatest threat to the revolution isn't the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis or tensions between the army and the protesters. The real threat is money: Egypt does not have any way to fund the revolution.

Bimmer bummer

Asim Kocabiyik, one of the biggest businessmen in Turkey, heads the Borusan Holding Company. The oligarch, who belongs to the Turkey's moneyed aristocracy, is a fierce opponent of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a few years ago he warned that if Erdogan's Justice and Development Party won more than 50 percent in the elections, "the country will go down the drain."

Now Kocabiyik, no stranger to controversy, has found himself in the middle of a firestorm, and all because of a headscarf.

Borusan, which sells BMW cars in Turkey, recently decided to sponsor a television program moderated by female racing car driver and snowboarding champion Burcu Cetinkaya. For the automobile review program, the rally driver was supposed to receive 100,000 euros and the use of two Mini Cooper cars for a year.

However, three months after the program kicked off, the company decided to cancel the deal. The reason: Cetinkaya's co-hostess on the television show was Merve Sena Kilic, a reporter for the pan-Islamic Yeni Safak daily who appeared on the program wearing a headscarf.

"We saw your pictures in the newspaper, driving the Mini with a woman wearing a head covering. This created an image problem for us and the management in Germany does not want this," the Turkish company wrote to Cetinkaya.

The sponsorship was canceled, the program pulled off the air and the tempest began.

Borusan hastened to explain that it was a matter of cuts and not of opposition to head coverings but that argument was not persuasive. Borusan of course has no objection to women who wear head coverings buying their cars, on condition they don't test them on television.