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Egypts PR Problem

Carrie Cuno is the editor of PS21 and (in her spare time) works in
development in Washington DC. She tweets @ccuno.
According to a report released by the World Bank, 71.6% of the Egyptian
population lives below the poverty line. But the Egyptian government has
always made it easy for the foreign tourist to visit ancient attractions without
having to see that.
Consider, for example, Luxor and Aswan, southern Egypts two tourist hubs.
Though many ancient sites are near these two towns, some of historys most
fantastic monuments were, irritatingly, built in remote parts of the region. So
the government compensated by building clean, sterile roads through the
desert where the pit stops are modeled after the American convenience
store.
The tourism industry, long considered the backbone of the Egyptian
economy, was hit especially hard by the political instability that followed the
2011 uprisings. So its not surprising that the government is now trying to
rebrand itself as a stable, office just over two years ago, President Abdel
Fattah al-Sisi has announced a number of ambitious economic reforms and
policies. But they seem more designed to show the world that the country is
ready to reemerge as a major economic player than to actually substantially
improve Egypts infrastructure.
Last March, for example, Egypts housing minister announced his plan to
build a new capital city located just outside of the greater Cairo area.
Officially, the new capital will cut down on overcrowding and congestion. In
reality, though, if the project is completedwhich is certainly not a givenit
will look more like a paradise for foreign tourists than Egyptian residents, with
40,000 hotel rooms, a bevy of foreign embassies, an international airport, and
a theme park four times bigger than Disneyland, according to Madbuli. Its
a political statement: a signal to the world that the country has literally
moved past the uprisings that took place in the center of Cairo more than five
years ago.
This announcement preceded the completion of an expansion to the Suez
Canal. Sisis claim that the expansion will grow Egypts economy

exponentially has been debunked by experts--in fact, it may actually weaken


national security. Though the expansion will undoubtedly be vital to
decreasing canal traffic in the near future, there was no reason to for Sisi to
spend billions of extra dollars to complete it by an unrealistic schedule
except, of course, to show that he could.
Furthermore, its continual use of exaggerated promises and over-the-top
rhetoric has invited much international criticism. As Timothy E. Kaldas said in
a recent op-ed, expanding a canal is not a miracle, as officials claimed.
And the accompanying celebration, which cost an estimated $30 billion
dollars, was seen by many critics as an insult to the vast majority of the
population who are living in poverty. However vehemently the government
insists that it is behaving democratically, it is clear that theres a huge gap in
between their best interests and the needs of the state.
This year alone has also seen a crackdown on nearly 500 NGOs, the
resignation of Egypts agriculture minister amidst charges of corruption, and
the conviction of three Al Jazeera journalists accused of supporting the
Muslim Brotherhoodscandals that are seriously embarrassing for a
government desperately trying to appear legitimate.
Ultimately, the canal expansion and economic reforms if not the new capital
will benefit the Egyptian people, and theres an argument to be made for
any policy that could reinvigorate the countrys tourism industry. Sisi is
clearly aware that the best way to bring back foreign visitors is to appear
politically stable. But he cant do this by cracking down on even the quietest
murmur of dissent and papering over these corruptions with grand schemes.
As obvious as it may seem: the government needs to focus on implementing
policies that substantially improve the countrys economy, infrastructure and
regulatory systemnot proving itself to the rest of the world.
PS21 is a non-national, non-ideological, non-govrnmental organization. All
views expressed are the authors own.

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