An Egyptian personality, who had wide ranging relations with British circles, asked Andrew Knight – who rescued the Economist and took it from utter failure to absolute success before he retired – about the possibility of reducing the intensity of the media campaigns prior to the visit by the Egyptian president to the British capital, London, last November.
His answer was an expression of the magnitude of the crisis, he said: “There is nothing much we can possibly do.”
It is as if he wanted to say that Egypt should help itself before seeking the help of others and that improving its image requires a change in the general political environment, which is plagued by disturbing conditions that preclude any possible sympathy.
A year later, it would seem his conclusions were accurate and his reckoning was right on the spot. The strong language used by the Economist in its special edition headlined “The ruining of Egypt”, was a reflection of the deterioration of the political image well beyond the economic figures.
In any reckoning that looks into the future and what is likely to happen in it, it would not be possible to separate what is economic from what is political.
The state’s prestige is made by its image, its vitality, its strength and its ability to build wide national accords.
Notwithstanding any reservations regarding the excessive politicisation pursued by this most respectable, most prestigious and most globally influential economic magazine, which impacts on economic and financial elites and affects investments and financial and business communities, its overall critique is based on a foundation that cannot be denied. The economic crisis in Egypt is escalating and the government is looking to sign a contract with the IMF for the value of $12 billion and for other loans worth $9 billion from other international institutions as a final resort before any possible collapse.
The most serious message is that Egypt is losing the necessary international sympathy at a moment when existential dangers are looming and are threatening its future.
And this deals a heavy blow to the opportunity of attracting foreign investments or of the return of tourism to what it used to be.
Despite indications by the Economist that the World Bank and the African Development Bank have backed down from handing over the loans Egypt has asked for, it is unlikely that it will be left to drown. The strategic repercussions are beyond anybody’s bearing.
The most likely scenario is that the IMF will proceed with imposing its strict conditions under the pretext that it is too late to remedy the sick economy irrespective of the social impact or the turmoil that might follow.
In as much as the IMF loan may be considered an international vote of confidence to attract investments, the report in the Economist is a call for a stricter approach in dealing with the Egyptian negotiator.
The general image – according to the most influential magazine – portrayed of the Egyptian economic team is that it lacks any competence and that it has failed completely in handling its own files to the extent that it is “ruining Egypt”.
The report draws attention to a Gulf dismay and willingness to reconsider completely the question of economic aid.
The report, timewise, is disturbing and the magazine has its contacts with the economic decision makers in the countries of the Gulf allies.
What exactly is the truth?
What are the reasons behind the rift with the brothers in the Gulf?
Why this frustration?
These are essential questions that we cannot escape from and should address.
The easiest answer would be to dismiss the disturbing signals and to accuse the British magazine of spreading lies.
“The state of denial” is one of the critical headlines in the latest edition of the Economist. This is a charge that is not without basis in reality. No one is admitting the depth of the economic crisis and is willing to reflect on its deep causes that led to failure or to establish coherent policies prior to proceeding with the implementation of the projects some of which were undertaken without feasibility studies or willingness to reconsider the economic community and its choices.
Denying the crisis is one of the causes of augmenting it and of the decline in the confidence that it can be surpassed.
If no one can afford to ignore the Economist and keep silent, confronting it with shouting through the media is at best a substance for local consumption that changes nothing of the fundamental equations.
Synonymous with the edition of the Economist entitled “The ruining of Egypt”, the New York Times lamented in its main editorial the loss of Egypt’s standing and said that” wretched Egypt” has no more influence compared to its previous roles or compared with the Iranian and Saudi roles that are competing in the region’s arenas.
This may be considered an act in order to apply maximum pressure and political blackmail. However, conspiracy theories do not justify the scandalous mistakes that encourage disregard for any Egyptian interests.
Although the most renowned American newspaper has been used to undermine the Egyptian regime since 30 June, and has lost its influence due to its excessive enmity, it gained momentum when the Economist joined the path of raucous criticisms.
It is noteworthy within this context that the Immigration Department within the British Home Office has recommended granting the right of political asylum to any Muslim Brotherhood member or to any journalist proven to have been subjected to repression in Egypt.
Within the same context, the new British Prime Minister Teresa May has delayed for more than is natural and appropriate – for nearly three weeks – her response to a request from the Egyptian president to call and congratulate her.
This was diplomatic rudeness on the part of the prime minister of a country well known for attending to principles and traditions.
Clearly, we are heading towards extremely difficult conditions in international relations that range from a declining relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to other relations with the US that may suffer major tremors during the next presidential period.
The economy is the principal point of weakness in the entire position.
According to the Economist, as mentioned in the last sentence of its editorial “Ruining Egypt”, the point that is being targeted by all sharp criticisms is “shortening the Sisi presidency” or pressuring him so as not to stand for a second term in 2018.
This is not new. There have been “indications of an increasing tendency by some Western parties toward pressuring President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi so as not to complete his first presidential term” as I wrote exactly in this very space on 9 March.
What used to take place behind closed doors has now come to the open through the pages of the most respectable and most widely influential magazines in the world.
This is an act that deviates away from the nature of economic journalistic work and enters the field of direct political action.
Why is this demand being made public now?
The most essential of all reasons is the loss of major bets on 30 June and the disintegration of the support base under the yoke of both political and social frustrations.
By virtue of wide cohesion, Egypt was able to deter the campaigns waged against it; it has even managed to open windows through which it managed to advance with self-confidence.
However, this is no longer the case. The political void has led to brittleness in the overall structure in the face of any likely storms.
The entire situation needs immediate revision that in turn necessitates opening the windows of public dialogue instead of treating personal initiatives as if they are intended to shed doubt on the project. Collective complaints should be listened to and political injustices immediately lifted by releasing all the detainees who have been mistreated without having been embroiled in any violence.
If this country is not able to unite over immediate measures aimed at rectifying the various aspects of its disorder, then it will be heading towards one of its worst crises in modern history.
Translated from Shorouk News, 9 August 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.