Thomas White Global Investing
Egypt Stamp
June 24, 2011
A Postcard from the Middle East/Africa
Egypt: ‘The unique and the unusual’ in a season of change

Tahrir Square in Cairo, a symbol of Egypt’s revolution

Thousands of Egyptians gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir Square around the clock for many days as a form of passive protest against the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. The square has since become a symbol of Egypt’s revolution.

The news from Egypt this year appears to have a recurring theme — “unusual.” While the non-violent revolution the nation’s youth organized through the social media caught the world’s imagination early this year, a couple of recent events in the country are no less extraordinary.

In an astonishing step, Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has declared that it will compensate domestic mobile-phone operators and internet-service providers (ISPs) for the losses they suffered due to business disruption during the revolution. Ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s government had shut down mobile phone services on January 28 and internet services for six days between January 28 and February 2 to make it more difficult for citizens to organize protests. The ministry has said that 100 million Egyptian pounds or $16.8 million will go to mobile-phone operators and ISPs. However, authorities have not yet specified how the amount will be distributed between the operators and ISPs. Incidentally, a Cairo court has asked Mubarak and two of his ministers to pay a fine of $90 million or 540 million Egyptian pounds from their personal funds for hurting the nation’s economy by disrupting communications services.

If the Communications and Information Technology Ministry’s gesture of empathy sounds rare, a poll being conducted by the current military leadership of Egypt is certainly unprecedented. The military rulers have posted a survey on the social networking site Facebook to assess the popularity of 18 presidential hopefuls. As of June 21, the poll had recorded around 100,000 responses. After Hosni Mubarak resigned as president on February 11, the Egyptian military assumed control of the government, dissolving the presidency and the parliament. Fresh parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in the country in September and presidential elections by the year-end. Although the survey might suggest the military’s keenness to find a popular leader for the country, skeptics believe a few powerful generals are likely trying to promote their favorite candidate.

Nonetheless, whatever the motive may be, these events are surely the many colors of Egypt’s season of change. After the revolution, the country is vigorously preparing to rebuild itself and help has come from various sources. The International Monetary Fund recently announced a loan of $3 billion for Egypt, and fortunately for the country, the terms of the loan are surprisingly lenient. The loan merely carries a 1.5% rate of interest and the usual IMF conditions on debtors, such as austerity measures, have not been imposed. Further, Saudi Arabia has promised $4 billion in soft loans, and the U.S. has committed $1billion of loan guarantees and the waiver of debt of an equal amount. Besides, various organizations such as the World Bank have hinted that they may come forward to help and, according to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Qatar may invest as much as $10 billion on various projects in Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians were a master of complex burial rituals, the symbols of which still stand across the deserts around Cairo. In that tradition, the Egyptians of today appear to be set to give their difficult past a grand burial.


Image Credit: RamyRaoof under Creative Commons license

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