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After all the drama, Egypt is on the mend

Abdallah Schleifer

Published: Updated:

News from abroad (aside from that concerning the great powers) being discontinuous in nature can be broadly defined as “catastrophe coverage” -- coup d’etats, uprisings, terrorist attacks, large protests and demonstrations and violent responses by the state as well as massive floods and earthquakes.

So what would anyone in London or New York reading his or her newspaper or scrolling the news online know about Egypt these days except that a state security headquarters in Mansoura had been blown away, killing many policemen, or that hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters have been arrested over the past few weeks, or a few dozen of the relatively dwindling Brotherhood protestors have been killed in violent clashes with security in fighting that involved Molotov cocktails (firebombs), police cars being set on fire – one with policemen inside -- the use of tear gas as well as deadly gun fire.

Nor would the prevailing rhetoric – which fits into catastrophe coverage --be encouraging. People can certainly be arrested for demonstrating illegally which now means failure to notify and secure a license from state security three days prior to the demonstration; a rule which deeply offends both the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the secular youth groups associated with the Tahrir Uprising whose only political will, disappointingly, seems to be in staging demonstrations, rather than grassroots work organizing a political party.

But illegal demonstrations do not necessarily mean that demonstrators—even if they are unpopular or in violation of the new law on public protests – are necessarily now terrorists, as one would think given the official rhetoric.

As for the Brotherhood’s rhetoric, one cannot try, as they have, to prevent the overwhelming majority of students at Al Azhar University's main campus from taking their exams by using violent actions – which includes setting university buildings on fire -- while continuing to describe themselves as defenders of democracy and believers in non-violence.

A flood of international aid

What is not being reported abroad is the significant funding, more than a billion dollars, now allocated by the transitional government for both the private sector and the army to undertake major public works projects to generate employment – extension of drinking water and sewage systems, street lighting and paving roads in the vast slums (officially referred to as "informal housing" which until now has been a bureaucratic way of not having to acknowledge the indifference of the Egyptian state of the poor for at least three or not more decades) in and around Cairo.

But what cannot be expressed in dollars, or percentages or alphabetical ratings is the general sense here in Cairo that things are on the mend.

Abdallah Schleifer

Significant aid in the billions from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait has been widely reported but little note has been made as to how this aid has eased pressure on the dollar reserves and is enabling the transitional government to make a significant payments towards its more than 6 billion dollar debt the government owes to international oil companies – a debt I would assume largely or even entirely incurred since the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising.

In response to these measures, including a reduction over the past six months in the percentage of debt in absolute terms, as well in relation to Gross National Product, the global ratings agency Fitch Ratings upgraded Egypt’s economic outlook for the first time since February 2001. The rating changed from negative to stable last week and Egypt’s sovereign credit rating from Triple C + (whatever that quite means) to B-.

On the road to recovery

But what cannot be expressed in dollars, percentages or alphabetical ratings is the general sense that inCairo, things are on the mend. There is a government in place engaging in a serious response to the economy in contrast to Egypt's government following the Jan. 2, 2011 uprising, and the added incompetence of the Mohammad Mursi government ruling from the summer of 2012 to the summer of 2013. Part of that sense that things are on the mend and that stability is returning after nearly three years to Egypt --contrary to the coverage of the foreign press.

European countries have suffered from terrorist attacks that provided gruesome photos -- think of Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks in the United Kingdom and the ultra-Left wing terrorist groups that plagued Germany (the Badader-Meinhof Red Army Faction) and Italy (the Red Brigades) in the 1960s and 70s. There were hundreds of police and soldiers and civilians killed or wounded in bombings, assassinations, acts or arson and sabotage.

However, those periodic episodes of terrorism never undermined a sense of stability in those three countries, or the perception of tourists visiting those countries. In Italy the many acts of terror included the kidnapping and murder of a former prime minister. In Germany, it was the assassination of the federal prosecutor and in the U.K. a bomb set off in the House of Parliament.

In Egypt, however, stability has been undermined, but not by what has become chronic terrorism. Stability is being undermined by the government, by on-going demonstrations blocking major traffic arteries, by the absence of police on the streets and the rise in crime, by the collapse of the tourism industry, by the flight of significant portions of the expatriate community which has undermined the local economies of upscale Cairo neighbourhoods. As these problems – except for the collapse of tourism --have diminished, so has a sense of increased security and stability, despite the periodic terrorism.

And however necessary we journalists have felt compelled over the past six months to put the “Roadmap” unveiled by General Al-Sisi last July within quotation marks– it is now an obviously viable calendar, which by its very viability contributes to that increasing sense of stability. A referendum on the amended constitution on Jan. 15, followed by elections which are most likely to be the first Presidential election will also be followed by parliamentary elections.

And however difficult it is for liberal sensibilities in the West not to mention the quite different but curiously coinciding sensibility of the Muslim Brotherhood here, all of this has to do with an increasingly effective transitional government -- effective precisely because this time around it is solidly backed by the Egyptian armed forces.

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Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary "Control Room" and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”

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