Journalist and playwright
Nothing goes right in Egypt anymore. The country is going through an unprecedented economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The number of infections and deaths has risen steadily in recent days. This Tuesday, 789 new cases of COVID-19 disease were reported in one day, bringing the total number of infections to 18,756, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. The acceleration of cases in recent days is explained by the relaxation of security measures. The first to suffer the consequences are the health workers who are paying a high price. So far, 19 doctors have died. The Egyptian Physicians’ Union deplored the inaction of the Ministry of Health and its negligence, which has cost these health professionals their lives. Egypt’s fragile health system is already overwhelmed.
Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, has been a very sad festival this year and there has never been one like it in Egyptian memory, even in times of war. While the mosques were closed for Eid celebrations, Egyptians gathered on the rooftops to pray together.
On Sundays, the crowded streets of Cairo were empty. Public transport was closed. No more buses, subways or taxis. An impressive police force was put in place. However, only a few days before, shops, restaurants and malls had reopened, but the Egyptian Ministry of Interior recorded 567 curfew violations in just two days.
Egypt, on the verge of economic collapse, no longer knows what to do
At a time when the banks of the Nile remain closed to the public, as well as the parks and beaches, more than 70 hotels in five provinces have received the “Health Safety” certificate of operation. Egypt’s Tourism Minister is already urging tourists to visit resorts in the South Sinai, the Red Sea, Alexandria, Suez and Greater Cairo. Hotel occupancy has fallen by 80% since the beginning of the year, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The German charter company Condor has also announced that it will resume flights to Hurghada from July. It is a difficult equation to reconcile economic imperative with health safety.
By this year 2020, it is estimated that Egypt’s exports will be reduced by 25%. It should be remembered that its traditional partners are mainly the countries of the European Union, the United States, China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with whom Egypt has signed a major contract for the sale of electricity. The pandemic is thwarting the plans of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who intends to turn his country into a major centre of electric power. A difficult year has also been announced for the textile sector, which is dependent on imports of raw materials.
Opening and closing, Egypt is improvising. This week, Local Development Minister Mahmoud Shaarawi asked the country’s governors to suspend the issuance of building permits. But construction workers are living from day to day and nothing is planned to support them. In addition, the unemployment rate is constantly rising. It has risen to 9.2% due to the latest economic downturn, said Planning and Economic Development Minister Hala al-Saeed. To address the situation, last April, Egypt requested a new loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (the last one was in 2016). If this undisclosed loan is granted, austerity measures will soon be announced.
Decision-making at the level of the Egyptian government seems to be contradictory and the lack of a global vision penalises the most fragile on a daily basis.
On 20 May, an even more painful decision was announced to the Egyptians: a 1% levy on public sector salaries will come into force as from 1 July. The project has already been validated by the Governing Council. According to Egypt Today, this measure should last for one year. Pensioners will not be overtaken: a withholding of 0.5 per cent of their monthly income will apply from the same date. On the other hand, salaries of less than 2 000 Egyptian pounds will not be affected.
The Egyptian Government, which is thus initiating severe austerity measures, has counted some 15,000 people directly affected by the crisis and in a very precarious situation. A month ago, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced an economic recovery plan of 100 billion Egyptian pounds (6.3 billion dollars), but it is clear that this is not enough and that the crisis has only just begun.
© This is a translation of the article originally published in Atalayar