A problem with Egypt’s credit card?

International Herald Tribune Daily News

June 9 2011

Philip Whitfield

Why are the media so coy? In war reporters’ lingo the leader of an army carted off the battlefield is toast. That’s what’s happened in Yemen. The headline in the Economist Gone for good? was nearest to the truth. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is unlikely ever to return to Yemen the Guardian’s Brian Whittaker wrote.
I’ll bet a steak au poivre in the Semiramis Grille to a pitcher in Estoril we’ve seen the last of Saleh’s Sana’a shenanigans. Saudi’s leaders won’t foist Saleh on Sana’a again. The New York Times reported his suffering 40 percent burns from a bomb blast requiring months of convalescence.
Warriors’ death throes are revealing. Wounded, the politically hebetudinous Saleh in a croaky voice beseeched his murderous militia to confront the tribal fighters… before being wheeled on to a Riyadh bound jet.
Hosni Mubarak famously told the Tahrir Square demonstrators at 10.45 pm on February 10: The blood of your martyrs and injured will not go in vain. I assure you that I will not relent in harshly punishing those responsible. I will hold those who persecuted our youth accountable with the maximum deterrent sentences. There’s something for judges to ponder.
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad last spoke publicly on March 1. He said: Syria is a target of a big plot from outside. Since then Assad’s troops have murdered countless innocents inside his country and Bashar remains silent, sending satraps to mince words.
Great warriors don’t forget their publics before leaving. Alexandria the Great, dying aged 33: There are no more other worlds to conquer. Admiral Lord Nelson before his final battle: England expects every man to do his duty.
Some were less than sagacious: Major General John Sedgwick, commander of the Union army in the American Civil War, shot while looking over a parapet at the enemy: They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…
Tyrants try to justify their despondence. Exemplars slip away unpretentiously. The heroes of Egypt’s Revolution deserve immortality. From my balcony observing the gorgeous blaze of flamboyants, I wonder if we couldn’t plant scores of flamboyant trees in and around Tahrir Square for generations to come to marvel at the promise of renewal, to recall the valiant who sacrificed their lives for justice.
For the moment, much needs repair. Face facts: On Tuesday the Central Bank revealed Egypt’s international reserves decreased from US$ 28.02 billion in April to US $27.2 billion in May. The trend indicates that in the blink of a global financier’s eye – 2 years and 9 months – Egypt’s rainy day fund will dry up.
Egypt’s game might end sooner. In the next 33 months, there’ll be many more distress signals from countries such as Libya, Tunisia, Syria and elsewhere.
If Egypt succumbs, the country will be in hoc to who knows who? Independence will be a chimera, a catastrophic cherubic cacophony, a crepitating clattering confusion feeding the lenders’ rapacious greed.
The tragedy is the lack of a visionary leader. Who can make sense of the different voting systems proposed for the assembly elections by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces? What’s certain is that sophisticated computer systems exist to crunch the numbers and forecast the result pretty accurately. Are our unelected leaders giving them a whirl beforehand?
Others are second-guessing. Abu Dhabi Gallup polled 1,000 Egyptians across the country. The Muslim Brotherhood had the support of 15 percent, the National Democratic Party (which is banned) 10 percent, the liberal Wafts 9 percent and the newly launched Wasat party 5 percent.
The U.S. Agency for International Development published an opinion poll this week after 1,200 people ticked boxes from April14 to April 27.
One finding is alarming. Less than one in five named lack of democracy as their reason for joining the protests. Nearly two-thirds said they supported the protests because they were unhappy over low living standards or a shortage of jobs. Some 80 percent said they anticipated their economic situation would be better in the coming year as a result of the revolution.
Here’s the issue: In a true democracy money is not the means to wealth. It’s the result of effort. Most people born with a silver spoon squander their windfalls in the early years of good fortune.
True enough, workers are entitled to a decent wage. But to earn the right to a fair minimum wage requires a fair minimum day’s work.
The economic Stone Age might be round the corner. As Barney Rubble famously said to Fred Flintstone: Don’t count your bowling balls before they’re hatched.
Crisscrossing Cairo on the buses, I observe empty buses at 7 30 a.m., which is rush hour in Chicago and other affluent cities where workers jumpstart the day early. On the other hand, from 2 ‘til 5 it’s a nightmare trying to zip through the zakmah with so many government workers heading home prematurely or more likely into the cavities of the black economy.
We all hear the new phrase oft repeated: Has the revolution arrived? Shorthand for: Why are you still bilking me? Reward is proportionate to value given, not price asked.
Daily, we read about demands for higher pay. Perhaps we could be better informed if the profligacy of government-operated enterprises was exposed to scrutiny. Workers have a right to know if their firms are technically bankrupt.
Cairo is awash with rumors of mergers and acquisitions, particularly in the financial services industry. They can’t continue bleeding cash. They’re looking for white knights to come to the recue. Problem is Egypt’s running low on cash and has resorted to raiding the cookie jar, or selling off the family silver.
As the storekeeper said to Barney Rubble’s wife Betty: There seems to be a slight problem with your credit card.
Betty: Really? What’s that?
Cashier: It’s no damn good.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.

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