Gales View - 15th December 2011

The stiff breeze blowing off the Gulf of Suez marks the onset of what is as close to winter as it gets in Egypt.  The Middle Eastern sun still shines and the diving resorts of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba are still open for business but the hotels and the restaurants and the bars are almost empty. The “Arab Spring” has given way to an ugly, at times violent and uncertain Autumn and the tourists upon which much of Egypt`s economy and very many livelihoods depend have chosen caution over holiday bargains. The television streaming of live riot coverage from Cairo`s Tahrir Square throughout much of November has sent winter sun-seekers scurrying to other destinations.

After the relative calm of the run-up to the ballot in Tunisia and the formation, in that country, of a democratically elected interim government, the advent of the prolonged parliamentary election process in Egypt  proved, initially,  to have been an altogether more sinister and threatening affair.
It is getting on for a year since the first revolution that precipitated  the downfall of the dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Since those heady early spring days Mubarak`s military leaders have re-asserted an iron grip over government, administration and `security`.
Commerce has ground to a halt. Development is at a standstill. And far from generating new opportunities and employment in a land where forty per cent of the population still tries to survive on an income of one dollar a day the much longed-for progress and march towards democracy seems to the outside observer to have drifted into casual stagnation.

On the Nile the river cruisers lie moored and idle. They say that where there were once long queues to visit Egypt`s monuments and antiquities a handful of visitors now gain almost instant access to guides desperate for any business at all.

Work no longer in progress
Yasser, for example, is thirty-four years old. He is a qualified fitness instructor and lifeguard. He is now back with his wife and two young children in a village on the outskirts of Cairo. Like many others working in the tourist industry he is unemployed. This means that even the pitiful £2 per day salary that he was earning in a resort hotel is no longer available to feed his family.  His is the human face of this Arab Winter.

Ready to party – but no guests
This is not what the Arab Spring was supposed to have been about. With leading entrepreneurs predicting national bankruptcy within months if not weeks, with Field Marshall Mohamed Tantari and his generals hanging onto power and stolen wealth by brute force if necessary, with a promised Presidential election kicked into the outfield if not the long grass, it comes as little surprise that prior to the first round of a three-month election process thousands went back to the streets in Cairo, and in Alexandria in defiance of tear gas and bullets to protest at the hijacking of their revolution.
Riot has given way to sullen acquiescence as the democratic process crawls towards some kind of conclusion.  While some protestors still scream “foul” and others are wary of the level of co-operation between the leading Muslim Brotherhood and the Military there is a general recognition of the fact that although the political government was forced to resign the demanded removal of the Military Council would have left a dangerous political vacuum , to be filled by who knows what..
This is one of the most important countries in the Middle East.  It is vital that the investors return, that the construction companies finish half-completed developments and that financiers begin to invest again.  The tourist trade has to be persuaded that the resort areas really are safe and open for business.  Most of that will depend upon the political progress – or lack of it – in the early months of 2012.  The first anniversary of the Arab Spring still has the capacity to be celebrated as a successful transition from oppression to democracy.  The alternative does not bear too much thinking about. 

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