Egypt: broke, hungry, and desperate


The rush out of the Egyptian pound is so rapid that Egyptian investors refuse to hold debt in their own national currency, even at a 16% yield. After Islamist parties won more three-quarters of the seats in recent parliamentary elections – 47% for the Muslim Brotherhood and 25% for the even more extreme al-Nour Party – the business elite that prospered under military rule is counting the days before exile. The first reports of actual hunger in provincial Egyptian towns, meanwhile, are starting to trickle in…

It seems unlikely that Egypt’s central bank will be able to prevent a banana-republic devaluation of the Egyptian pound, and a sharp rise in prices for a population of whom half barely consumes enough to prevent starvation. The difference between Egypt and a banana republic, though, is the bananas: unlike the bankrupt Latin Americans, who exported food, Egypt imports half its caloric consumption. Meat imports have already fallen by 60% over the past year…

Nearly half of Egyptians are functionally illiterate. Nine-tenths of adult women have suffered genital mutilation. Almost a third of Egyptians marry first or second cousins, the fail-safe indicator of a clan-based society. Half of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day, and must spend half of that on food…It should have been no surprise that the Islamists swept the parliamentary elections, given the desperation of the people and the cupidity of the political system. The Wafd Party, Egypt’s oldest secular political entity, polled just 9% of the vote.

Delusional as it was to expect Egyptians to support secular liberal parties that never existed and offered no solution to their desperation, it is all the more delusional to expect the Islamists to stabilize Egypt. The Islamist victory in the first round of voting last year almost certainly prompted the jump in capital flight in December, and the consolidation of Islamist power. Egypt’s middle class will leave and tourism, down by a third over the past year, will virtually disappear

We saw this sort of thing coming a year ago. But the wise ones said, “to be in Tahrir Square tonight, to feel the energy and pride of a people taking back the keys to their country and their future from a tired old dictator, was a privilege.”

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