Mubarak was no saint, but what has transpired in a post-Mubarak society, is far worse.
Egypt’s dilemma is this: it cannot politically afford to stop providing the costly subsidies to the poor that distort its economy. Poor Egyptians spend 70 percent of their income on food, versus 55 percent for Egyptians as a whole; Americans spend roughly 14 percent. But unless it reduces these subsidies and adopts a pro-growth budget, Egypt cannot secure the $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan it needs to unlock what Angus Blair, a Cairo-based former investment banker and founder of Signet Institute, an economic think tank, estimates could be $14 billion in aid and investment. Egypt spends about 20 percent of its budget on fuel subsidies alone. In other words, the government would be committing political suicide to do what economists say must be done to sustain the country’s economic viability.
The Pharaoh Weeps
The Cairo subway was one of Hosni Mubarak’s proudest achievements. Built at a cost of several billion dollars in the late 1980s, it reflected Egypt’s ancient civilization and modern Egypt’s national pride. Air-conditioned in summer, quiet as a pharaoh’s tomb, the subway was well-lit and beautifully appointed. Display boxes of ancient Egyptian artifacts lined its platforms. A special police unit kept the stations clean, safe, and graffiti-free.
Then came the Egyptian revolution in January and February 2011. Today, the subway that transports roughly 4 million passengers a day throughout this vast city of roughly 17 million is a wreck. The tile walls of its central hub, Tahrir Square—the epicenter of the protests that forced Mubarak from power—are chipped and filthy. Its platforms are strewn with litter. A main passageway from the platform to the square has been dark for weeks; no one has changed the burned-out bulbs. There are no policemen in sight. The passageways stink.
The subway is a metaphor for post-revolutionary Egypt. The square that symbolized the revolution is now occupied by riffraff and protestors who assemble periodically to show the government that the people remain in control. Traffic around the Middle East’s largest public square has been diverted.