A special report from The Economist on Egypt’s potential impact to the region
A new special report published in The Economist this week looks at Egypt’s important economic and political role in the Middle East. Its economy, long seen as fragile, has strengthened greatly in recent years, weathering the global recession with surprising ease. Yet, deep poverty persists and political reform is slow in coming with President Mubarak, now 82, facing internal pressure for change ahead of elections. In the report, author Max Rodenbeck explores Egypt’s huge potential and its implication for the wider region.
The special report argues that Egypt, just as Turkey or Mexico were in the 1990s, is poised for dramatic change. Home to a population greater than any other Mediterranean or Middle Eastern country, Egypt has been an anchor of regional trade and politics. Its economy, relatively free of foreign debt and increasingly diversified, may have entered a virtuous cycle of growth, sustained largely by expanding local demand and capable of pulling the majority of Egyptians into the consumer class.
In politics, a freer press and a more vocal opposition are challenging the dominance of a single party that has persisted for the past six decades. The political direction Egypt chooses to follow will have a far-reaching impact to the region. President Mubarak has been at the helm for 29 years, ensuring stability but stifling the emergence of more representative forms of government. New political actors have emerged, yet the opposition remains fragmented. It is also still uncertain to what extent Mr. Mubarak is willing to relax his party’s grip to allow more open, contested politics.
Numerous obstacles still remain. Egypt suffers from low productivity, high government debt, an oversized public sector, politically sensitive subsidies, deep-seated problems in the public health and education systems and structural weaknesses. All of these may take years to tackle.
The special report argues that it is time for Egypt to embrace a more open political, economical and cultural vision to regain its leading role and positive influence in this troubled region.
Covering topics ranging from gold mines to religious extremism and from toothpaste consumption to foreign policy, the report is now available in the current issue of The Economist.