Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The people of Egypt have spoken | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cargo ships sail through the Suez Canal, seen from a helicopter, near Ismailia, Egypt, in this September 2009 file photo. (AP Photo, File)

It is not hard to gauge the general mood of the Egyptian public, especially for those who wish to understand it clearly. Despite this, political forces, countries and even Egyptian governments throughout the years have often misread it completely, leading them to encounter many problems or to achieve results very different from those initially planned. Or perhaps this general mood is itself confused, baffling those attempting to read it or drive it in a particular direction.

These days, it would be virtually impossible to mistake the general mood of the Egyptian public. This is especially so in the case of the initiative to expand the Suez Canal, and the way the public responded to calls from the government to help fund the project through purchasing shares, which succeeded in raising 61 billion Egyptian pounds (9 billion US dollars) in just eight days. Granted, the shares’ rates of return after five years are very enticing, but the public’s confidence in the project has been the real driver of the success of this public offering which has raised so much money in such little time.

Those who went to the banks or the other financial institutions selling the shares were mostly just ordinary Egyptians, not just the political elite or those with a vast hoard of cash in the bank. But it is these ordinary people who in the end make up politics in Egypt—in the sense that they could be said in some way to represent the “Egyptian street” and the ordinary folk of the nation.

The reaction to the Suez project is a clear, unequivocal sign of the current general public mood in Egypt. But there have been other, earlier signs from daily life which indicated the Egyptian public was ready to be patient with the new administration—it is, after all, one whose power is the fruit of the public’s own efforts on June 30, 2013. There has been a clear response from the street to the kind of language used by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi when he talks candidly about the country’s problems. Sisi doesn’t traffic in false political promises; he presents problems as they are, mentioning specific time frames and discussing concrete steps that could be taken to solve them.

One of the other clear signs helping us gauge the general public mood in Egypt right now is the way the public has reacted to the recent government cuts in some energy and fuel subsidies. This is a vital move, but one previous governments did not dare make. Despite their knowledge that subsidies were a massive drain on state finances, these governments feared public anger, like that which erupted during the so-called ‘bread riots’ of January 1977 when the government decided to lift some food and fuel subsidies. It is also clear in the people’s stoic reaction to the continual power cuts currently plaguing the country. The public clearly know that solutions will not appear overnight and that it will take time to put things in order, and are prepared to give the government enough time to come up with these solutions.

It may be that right now domestic conditions, especially economic ones, and the regional, political and security situations, are not favorable for the Third Republic of Egypt. Certainly, there is domestic and international opposition to the direction the country is taking. But the reality is that this new administration possesses positive attributes we have not seen in Egypt for a long time: the sheer magnitude of the trust it has gained from a large section of the Egyptian population, and its popularity with them. It was this, as well as the general public mood, that helped make the offering of the Suez Canal shares such a quick success.

This trust and popularity will enable the new administration to take the steps necessary to develop the country, and gives it a great opportunity to succeed—but only if its performance justifies the trust the public have placed in it.