By Moustafa Youssef
Manar Sami, a young physician and pulmonologist, wrote a very empathetic post on Facebook to ask her friends to take care of her two children after she tested positive for Covid-19 due to the severe lack of personal protective gear (PPE) in Egyptian hospitals. Ashraf Amin who is the CEO of Jamal Abd Al Nasser hospitals in Alexandria prevented all healthcare workers including doctors and nurses from wearing any face mask or gloves due to the lack of all PPEs. He also stated that whoever will wear any will be penalized with a 5-day salary deduction. Ironically, General Al-Sisi’s government delivered medical equipment to China, the UK, and the US, while leaving his people to fend for themselves. Al-Sisi’s government also sent two shipments with military aircraft to Italy with each shipment containing one million face masks, while most Egyptian healthcare workers have none. Egyptian healthcare workers have asked that the aid missions be rerouted to enhance at-home efforts instead of being shipped out as international aid. They plead hospitals to make sure they have enough PPEs, to ensure the protection of the public in addition to themselves. Anyone criticizing the lack of PPEs on social media is immediately silenced and in extreme cases even detained.
Protective equipment is not the only aspect that Egypt’s military government is managing inadequately. The healthcare system in Egypt is thought to be on the edge of collapse and failure due to mismanagement and underfunding of this vital sector. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, healthcare expenditures totalled $25 per citizen, which is alarmingly low compared to the global average of $1000. Instead of seizing full control to contain this virus outbreak in Egypt, security authorities forced The Guardian’s correspondent in Cairo, Ruth Michaelson, to leave after she wrote about the number of COVID-19 cases in the country being likely higher than official figures. Ruth cited research from the University of Toronto estimating the size of the outbreak in Egypt to be more than 19,000. The military state is solely concerned with controlling the propaganda around the virus.
Last October 23-year-old, Mohammed Eid wanted to get work but could not afford to pay the $4 train ticket price. He could not have imagined that this would be the case when six years ago he listened to General Al-Sisi’s speech on July 3, 2013, the day of the Egyptian military took over the nation’s government in a military coup. In that speech, Al-Sisi promised prosperity for all Egyptians, as well as unlimited support from wealthy Gulf oil producers such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Instead, the struggling street vendor, confronted by the train conductor for payment, was forced to jump from the train to his death.
By not encouraging foreign direct investments and new investors to fix the unmaintained infrastructure, Al-Sisi’s government has deployed the country’s resources in non-productive projects such as the bypass of the Suez Canal which cost the country over $12 billion. The launch and celebration for this expansion cost over $10 million. An example of a better place to where those funds could have gone is an instance such as the following: Last October, Cairo had some heavy rains which caused 19 citizens to pass away; Al-Sisi’s spokesperson said: “Cairo and other cities in Egypt do not have rainwater drainage systems because the weather is usually dry and we rarely see rain in Cairo, and when it does rain, it is never that heavy.” This is an example of extreme mismanagement and a clear issue in priorities for this regime, where a celebration is more important than having the infrastructure to protect the Egyptian citizens.
Egypt under Al-Sisi’s regime received very generous aid from 2013 to 2015 from the two wealthy governments in Saudi Arabi and the United Arab Emirates. Together, they spent more than $40 billion to suppress the Arab spring and prevent the creation of any democratic state in the Middle East. Democracy is fatal to their own dictatorships. Most of those funds found their way to the pockets of corrupt generals.
According to The World Bank, in April 2019 around 60% of Egyptians -the population was 101.2 million- were “either poor or vulnerable”. Official figures from the Egyptian authorities, published in July 2019, confirmed that the number of Egyptians living under the poverty line rose to 32.5% in 2018 from 27.8% in 2015. One of the main structural problems of the Egyptian economy is the mismanagement of the military regime that has been controlling most of Egypt’s economy since the first military coup in 1952, accelerating exponentially after the recent coup in 2013.
According to the World Happiness Report 2019, Egypt ranked 137 out of 156 countries, ranking it as one of the least happy places to live in the world. The number of people living under poverty rose to almost one-third of the Egyptians in 2018 due to the high inflation rates and continued drastic declining of government expenditure on healthcare and education. Though the new Egyptian constitution emphasized that the government must allocate no less than 7% of the GDP for healthcare and education, the government has not implemented this constitutional provision; combined allocations for healthcare and education in the fiscal year of 2019-2020 is about 3.6% of the GDP.
As time progresses, Al-Sisi’s 2013 promises were not coming true as inflation swept the country and poverty levels rose steadily. There are countless videos broadcasted through social media, preaching against the mismanagement of public funds and the unbelievable corruption of the military. These videos opened up about how Al-Sisi built several seven-star palaces for himself and his family in several provinces in Egypt. Al-Sisi admitted he is building these palaces and claimed that he is building new Egypt!
With a population of 101.2 million, 60% of Egypt’s demographic is under the age of 30 years. 41% of the population is under the age of 18 years. The illiteracy rate is 20.1% according to the formal Egyptian authorities. Healthcare service in Egypt is considered one of the lowest qualities globally according to UNESCO. Instead of investing in its human capital, this regime invested government funds in a Utopian capital, created mainly for the elite, with a hefty cost of $90 billion. Al-Sisi ordered his army to have the latest technology of infrastructure and a man-made river in this new administrative capital. He demanded a new presidential palace -10 times the size of the white house. Al-Sisi promised Egyptians that the new administrative capital will have Africa’s highest tower, largest mosque and largest church. In order to achieve these world records, Al-Sisi government borrowed heavily in an unprecedented manner. Egypt’s debts had never exceeded $49 billion; this figure was during another military dictator, Hosni Mubarak. In July 2013 at the time of the coup, the external debt was $43 billion, and by November 2019 it increased to over $110 billion. During the same period, domestic debts jumped from $88 billion, around 1.4 trillion Egyptian pounds, to $288 billion, around 4.2 trillion pounds. The Egyptian government is addicted to debt (Egyptian government is borrowing nowadays with one of the highest interest rates in the international market) and the debt to the GDP is increasing every year dramatically in rates much higher than the growth rate of the national economy.
Today’s Middle East and North Africa are in a very unpredictable situation. This region is in dire need for socio-economic development, initiated and supported by a democracy that is for the people and by the people. Ignoring this deterioration invites disaster throughout the entire region and beyond since the situation in Egypt affects the entire region. Should the situation in Egypt continue to carry on this way, Egypt will continue to see its way to bankruptcy. This may lead to millions of illegal immigrants flowing out to Europe. Hundreds of thousands of suffering Egyptians may easily be recruited to join radical and extremist organizations, in addition to the misery of millions in Egypt suffering badly from the continuous ordeals. The free world needs to take a stance to prevent this unaffordable crisis before it is too late.
Moustafa Youssef is an International Economist & Business Strategist