Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Options for Egypt | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this undated photo, traffic moves along Cairo’s October 6th Bridge. (AFP/Khaled Desouki/AFP)

The traffic flow in Cairo could not be smoother in the early hours of the morning. During that time, a journey from Cairo International Airport to the heart of the capital can take less than 30 minutes, while during the day or the evening it may take two hours or more. Cairenes arrange their appointments according to the state of traffic, and they stoically accept cancellations caused by congestion on the roads.

Some say he who solves the problem of traffic in Cairo—a city choked by pileups of all kinds of vehicles, public and private, crawling slowly and infuriating commuters, as well as wasting their time and money on fuel burned while standing still—can solve all of Egypt’s problems.

Despite its seemingly humorous tone, this claim exposes the crux of Egypt’s problems. The issue of traffic in Cairo is an ancient one, caused by many factors that have been accumulating over time, including parking spaces that take up to half the street and the absence of garages in the city’s many high-rise buildings. Nevertheless, Cairo’s traffic problems are no more than in other capital cities with populations numbering in the millions—just imagine the congestion caused if every car owner in London decided to drive to work every day. The only difference between Cairo and Western capitals lies in the management of the problems through the implementation of strict regulations and laws.

The roots of the problems in Egypt are to be found in the underdevelopment of its economy, its services and its education system. These problems have been accumulating over time and have not been addressed. The problems also stem from populist decisions that may have appealed to the public for a short time, but soon led to the escalation of the very problems they were designed to solve. Paradoxically, prior to the uprising in January 2011, Egypt witnessed high growth rates by international standards, but the benefits were not felt by the middle and lower classes—who eventually reached a boiling point. This economic progress came too late to be felt by all sectors of society and the Egyptian economy.

Much may be said about the last three years and the accompanying chaos, which has reflected badly on the economy, resulting in declining state revenues and foreign currency reserves. This affected the tourism sector in particular, and also led to the suspension of production in some factories. But this must not conceal the fact that these are structural problems that have been there for a long time and are in need of radical solutions rather than quick fixes. Such solutions require years of hard work and patience and may only come to fruition in the next generation.

These facts are casting a shadow over the current situation in Egypt, which now that the constitution has been approved is poised to take its second step in the political roadmap with the announcement of the dates of the presidential and parliamentary elections and the passing of a new election law. It is clear that the public mood in Egypt is one of eagerness for new presidential elections, and this explains the focus on the identity of the next president and whether or not Minister of Defense Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will stand. Sisi became hugely popular following the events of June 30, 2013, and even those opposed to him running for president do not question this fact. However, opponents of his candidacy argue that he should remain in his current post and act as a protector of the constitution and the political process, instead of becoming involved in a maze of economic and developmental problems nobody has a magic wand to solve.

But as the Egyptian presidential media advisor Ahmed Al-Meselmany summarized in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Egypt is in need of a popular leader who is trusted by people in order to introduce austerity measures or steps aimed at achieving real development.

Whichever way the wind blows, the forthcoming rulers of Egypt will face huge challenges and are required to take difficult decisions previous governments had been postponing for decades, imposing additional burdens on the generations that followed. The country can no longer continue under these policies, which are why Egypt is currently stuck in traffic.