Breakfast Wrap: Morsi & Mubarak Aren’t So Different, Labour disputes

Egypt’s president Mohammed Morsi may propose a way of life so different than the former regime’s that it is no longer comparable, but ultimately, the grand plans and the mega-projects are just progressions of the past few decades under a regime that sought to clamp down on today’s president.

Mr Morsi has spoken on encouraging Islamic finance and banking, once neglected by the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, but do not let this detract from the similarities between the men.  That is not a criticism, but an indication that the current government lacks innovation.

Mr Morsi’s administration is spending time reviving and building on projects and schemes first developed in the 1990s under former President Mubarak.  For instance, nuclear power projects have been revived from the 1990s and early 2000s.  Mr Morsi is also mimicking many of the diplomatic business routes Mubarak took, with a strong push toward China as a country than can use Egypt for its resources in exchange for connecting Egypt to Asia.

These are not pioneering ideas but merely a hold-over from the former regime.

The latest Mubarak revival under Mr Morsi’s administration is a plan to make one of the world’s greatest sea routes, the Suez Canal corridor, a bridge connecting Africa with Asia, Reuters reports.

The plan aims to transform the corridor along the 100-mile length of the canal from an area of mostly flat, empty desert into a major world economic zone.  Egypt began developing an industrial and port complex at the northern end of the canal near Port Said in the late 1990s, and a second at the southern end.

In fact, “decision makers need to be brave enough to move away from outdated economic models of behaviour and the blunt and inflexible policies of the Mubarak era,” writes Angus Blair, head of the Cairo-based Signet Institute in this FT article.

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A nice feature on Bloomberg that shines a light on “the difficulties facing Mursi as he passed 100 days in office this week, a date by which the Islamist had pledged to cure 64 of the ills that beset everyday life under President Hosni Mubarak”.   Despite promises of immediate action, to clean the streets, improve security and ease traffic congestion, he’s fallen short of these targets.

Bloomberg reporters paint a picture of poverty through a dying woman:

Five weeks of treatment for kidney failure at a Cairo hospital had left the 56-year-old mother of four emaciated. Her normally bronze complexion was sallow and the smile that had shepherded her children from infancy to adulthood disappeared behind the mask of a coma. The final breath was drawn on the day the last of Ibrahim’s savings ran out.

“It was as if she knew — knew that while she was worth the world to me, we had nothing left to pay to save her life,” Ibrahim said in a recent interview, blaming what she said was a health care system that helps only those with means. “Is this the new Egypt we were promised? A miserable country where the only thing left is to sell myself to raise money?”

As Issandr El Amrani of the Arabist blog writes in this New York Times blog piece, “Mr Morsi’s honeymoon with the public is nearing its end”.

He impressed by standing up to the generals and with his initial forays into foreign policy. But he promised too much too soon. Even after the generals got out of the way, he still faced a notoriously obstructive bureaucracy and an almost insurmountable range of problems. Raising expectations about his ability to solve them was not smart politics.

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Another frightening trend emerging from the post-revolution aftermath is the increasing division between the business community and the labour unions.  A newly emboldened population has called for higher wages, better working hours and better working conditions.  But increasingly, the heads of these businesses say it is damaging Egypt’s reputation as a country with a cheap labour force, and competitive advantage.

Ahram Online spoke to Alaa Arafa, chief executive of Arafa Holding, who said Egyptian labour strikes are a form of “social revenge” against the business community and should be properly regulated to maintain the country’s credibility with investors.

He said that the recent wave of ‘wildcat’ strikes are harming Egypt’s reputation as a safe place to invest.

The unfortunate scenario, as I saw when I visited Ceramica Cleopatra some months ago which has been subject to successive strikes, is that often these strikes end in bitter stalemate.  The labourers continue working for less because they have no choice and the employers won’t budge on demands because it could cut into earnings.   But this is a new era in politics and living.  Workers know they can get more and must get more, and will keep pushing till someone cracks.
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How Tunisia’s government may be promoting Islamic finance to win voters, rather than to boost the country’s economy, Reuters reported.
The Islamist Ennahda movement which leads Tunisia’s government after the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last year, said authorities would ensure that Islamic banks were able to compete on a level playing field with conventional banks, the report says.

But the report says some of Ennahda’s political rivals accuse the movement of using the issue to attract fresh support and head off any challenge from hardline Islamists in parliamentary elections expected next year, regardless of economic considerations.

Critics of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have mentioned this to me in passing, accusing the Islamist movement of the same motivations.

However, in Egypt it is less of an argument where society is largely suspicious of conventional banking.

It might serve the Islamist administration better to boost education in different forms of banking and microfinance as a safe way to save money, rather than pigeonhole and lobby for Islamic banking which has had its share of controversies.   




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