In Egypt, there’s no such thing as a free lunch

Getting a miserable person out of severe depression does not only require strong, effective medicine, it also requires a reliable doctor and a willingness on the part of the patient to effect a complete turnaround. Organizing countless medical sessions for decades without making any progress is a deliberate waste of energy and money. Egypt’s poverty may be likened to a wretched, sick patient. The relationship between the Egyptian state and its citizens is one where the state identifies the poverty virus, but has never been concerned with finding the cure and achieving a true recovery.

Poverty in Egypt has created a strong bond between the Egyptian state and large numbers of its citizens. The state accuses its citizens of being a liability, while the citizens allege that measures taken by the state are inadequate and faulty. Nevertheless, the state and its citizens are living together in unison, working on increasing Egypt’s poverty expenditures at the expense of the Egyptian economy. On the one hand, being responsible for feeding, housing, transporting and employing millions of citizens certainly constitutes a burden on the state, on the other hand, it provides an excellent excuse for the state and its millions of employees to exist and maintain their jobs!

The Egyptian government isn’t genuinely attempting to end poverty and its citizens won’t find the path to prosperity on their own. The hours that Egyptians currently spend lining up to obtain a few kilos of subsidized products so as to save a few pounds illustrate the bizarre relationship that the state has created. By spending the same number of hours working, Egyptians can earn more than the amount they save by purchasing subsidized food. Unskilled Egyptian workers earn roughly ten pounds an hour and incentivizing them to work a few extra hours per month should make it easy for the state to trim down subsidies and reduce the subsidization bill.

The Egyptian government isn’t genuinely attempting to end poverty and its citizens won’t find the path to prosperity on their own

Mohammed Nosseir

“There is no such thing as a free lunch” is a proven proverb. The “free lunch” that millions of Egyptians receive daily is paid for by their country’s resources. According to reports, roughly half of the fiscal budget is spent on subsidized products and wages for state employees who manage the “free meals!” The subsidization bill is incrementing in billions every year, money that could be spent on items that are more beneficial. The state seems to want people to be irresponsible, relying on them to sustain the dependent relationship that it created in the first place. The subsidized apartment complexes recently built by the state are a perfect example in which the state sends its citizens an implicit message: that the combination of poverty and a laidback attitude could lead to obtaining state assistance.

The Egyptian government certainly does not want to face a crisis of shortages of subsidized items. Yet food or energy shortages cause millions of ordinary and illiterate citizens to criticize the performance of government executives on the one hand and value the government’s role in their life on the other. The state often solves its crises by replacing its executives. The concept of curtailing the role of the government or getting rid of subsidized items does not exist.

In terms of magnitude and price increases, poverty is spreading in Egypt. The difference between subsidized product prices and free market prices is increasing, heightened by our population growth rate. Thus, citizens’ reliance on subsidization is becoming more crucial and, obviously, our subsidization bill is growing. The Egyptian state that is frequently concerned with paying the monthly subsidization bill would do better to focus on creating a business structure and environment that would enable people to overcome poverty on their own.

The state should abandon the role of “Big Brother” it has been playing for decades and act as a regulator and motivator instead. Citizens worldwide don’t mind getting a free lunch. However, we need to alter Egyptians’ mindset and direct it towards declining this offer. The first step toward remedying this free lunch phenomenon is to prompt Egyptians to value their time, energy and dignity. We need to create an attitude and an outlook that encourages Egyptians to spend more time working to boost their incomes instead of relying on the government’s free lunch ploy.

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Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician who advocates for advancing liberalism, political participation, and economic freedom. Mohammed was member of the higher committee at the Democratic Front Party from 2007 to 2012, and then member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptian Party till mid 2013. Mohammed advocates for his work through providing the Egyptian government with a number of schemes to better reform its government institutes, as well as he is a regular contributor to various Egyptian newspapers. Mohammed also has extensive experience in the private sector, working with a number of international companies assisting them in expanding their businesses in the Middle East. Mohammed graduated from Faculty of Commerce, Ain Shams University, Cairo (1986); he participated at Aspen Seminar on Leadership, Values and Good Society (2011), Eisenhower Fellow, Multi-National Program (2009) and Stanford Fellow for Democracy, Development & Rule of Law (2008).

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