"The Arab Winter"

Starting with Egypt, get ready for a static, de-westernized society built along the lines of a seventh century totalitarian state.

Giulio Meotti,

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giulio meott
צילום: עצמי

“Revolutions do not rain gold”, eloquently headlines the Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat. 

In a report published last month, the Institute of International Finance predicted that growth in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia will fall from 4.4 percent in 2010 to -0.5 percent this year.

Egypt is a seminal case to analyze the financial consequences of the so called “Arab Spring” in the Middle East since it is the cultural and political center of the Arab world. What happens there in the coming months will shape the future of the Middle East.

On January 25th, the day of the first big anti-Mubarak demonstration, an IMF mission had left Cairo saying that GDP was growing at 5% a year, the banking system was strong; so was the balance of payments.

After the uprising, GDP crashed, falling by 4% in the first quarter of the year.  

Although the revolution has lifted the hopes of many Egyptians eager for a prosperous, free and democratic future, the turmoil has destroyed the nation’s economy. Since the beginning of the protests, Egypt has lost nearly 10 billion US dollars – nearly a third – of its foreign reserves.

The overall growth rate has declined by 10 percent and local industrial production has decreased by over 12 percent. The number of unemployed youths has doubled, and the stock market has lost much of its value. The tourism industry is declining at an alarming rate of 35 per cent.

As the Egyptian newspaper Al Masri al Ayoum explains, “at the Giza Pyramids, the country's most popular attraction and a must-see destination for visitors to Cairo, not one Western tourist could be seen as the sun set on a weekday”. 

Hotels are empty and international tour operators have stopped offering Egypt as a destination. Hotel occupancy rates stood at 33 percent in Cairo, 36.5 in Alexandria, 33.5 in South Sinai, 30 percent at the Red Sea, 23 percent in Luxor, 16 percent in Aswan and 23.1 percent at floating hotels.

From the Pyramids of Giza to the Red Sea hotels, tourist numbers have plummeted to just a trickle, dealing a devastating blow to the millions of Egyptians whose livelihoods depend on tourism.

Wealthy Egyptian businessmen are leaving the country: $30 billion has left Egypt since the onset of the protests. In Tahrir Square the protesters have just called for “a tourism that respects Muslim norms” and Egypt Air flight attendants have just organized a protest to demand their right to wear the Islamic hijab (headscarf) while working.

The Muslim Brotherhood is going to re-impose mandatory “Zakat” (alms) and the system of regulating religious endowments for Muslims (the Brotherhood weighed the idea of implementing socialism in an Islamic framework during Nasser’s time).

The Brotherhood is also trying to implement the development of  “clean tourism” from Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The Islamists are also studying the creation of a “moral police” and Sobhi Saleh, a rising Brotherhood star, rehearsed the plans to “purify laws” and “implement Shariah” in Egypt (banning alcohol in public spaces and the mandatory headscarf for women).

Fifty years ago, women in Alexandria, once called “Little Paris” for its Westerner style, strolled on the beach in bikinis. Now, if women go to a public beach, they must do so in head-to-toe burqa.

The most important Christian magnate, Naguib Sawiris, is facing death threats and boycotts after posting a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Islamic dress.

From 2004 to 2006, there were a series of deadly bomb attacks at Red Sea resorts in the Sinai, but tourist bookings swiftly recovered. The analysts are now predicting that the post-revolutionary drop in business has been much more severe than the slowdown after the Luxor’s bloodbath in 1997, when a terrorist commando force butchered 58 Western tourists in the Theban temples and the tombs of the pharaohs.

Now the group behind that massacre, the Jama’s Islamiya, is running for the Parliament, after a general amnesty approved by the Egyptian army for hundreds of terrorists, including Islamic Jihad, that is members of the terrorist movement of al Qaeda’s new head, Ayman al Zawahiri (their peak was the assassination of president Sadat in 1981). 

This Islamicized stagnation can be the beginning of a long Arab winter: a static, de-westernized society built along the lines of a seventh century totalitarian state. As the largest Egyptian daily Al Ahram wrote yesterday, “the Islamist dream of establishing an Islamic state in Egypt is now closer than ever to being realised”.

A few days ago, Egyptian secularists launched an hysterical “one million bikinis” campaign to parody the Islamist campaing for “One million beards”. It’s easy to guess who will win.

  





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