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7/10/13

Egypt: Forget the Coup: Egypt's Economy Is the Real Problem - by Ben W. Heineman Jr.

Egypt's political dilemmas are based, in important part, on its economic dilemmas. But since the overthrow of the Morsi government, far less attention has been paid to crucial economic issues than the political and constitutional conflicts. But economic issues--and the lack of a legitimated economic vision--have been as much a cause of the unrest, change and uncertainty in Egypt, and during both the Mubarak and Morsi tenures. And they may be more intractable.

Any new permanent government will face the choice Morsi had but never made: between market economic reforms on the one hand, led by economists and business people to promote growth, jobs, and trade, and a command-and-control statist economy on the other, which provides subsidies for essentials like energy and staples like bread, rice, and sugar--and also provides sinecures for ex-military officers. Part of the problem is that "liberalizing" reforms--there have been three waves since the end of Nassar's regime than 40 years ago--are perceived as helping the rich and reflecting crony capitalism, rather than raising Egypt as a whole.

Morsi's inability to chart a clear economic path led to a significant worsening of Egypt's economic straits, which in turn helped mobilize the powerful street opposition. From just before 2011 to today: GDP growth is down (from nearly 6 percent to under 2 percent); unemployment is up (from 9 percent to over 13 percent); foreign exchange reserves are down (from $35 billion to just under $15 billion); the budget deficit has more than doubled (from nearly $110 billion to over $230 billion); a quarter of that budget are subsidies to poor and middle class; and the poor and near-poor total approximately half of the population.

Tourism is down significantly due to security concerns; direct foreign investment has declined sharply; gasoline and power shortages bedevil the population; a slide in the Egyptian currency has raised prices of foreign goods such as food imports; wealth distribution is badly skewed; the nation's credit rating is cratering; the hidden "black" economy constitutes as much as 40 percent of Egyptian economic activity. And corruption continues.

Read more: Forget the Coup: Egypt's Economy Is the Real Problem - Ben W. Heineman Jr. - The Atlantic

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