The issue in Egypt should be of global concern

Amidst a seventh day of street protests, the people of Egypt are further making their case to oust the President, Hosni Mubarak. Despite key changes to the cabinet, Egyptians are growing ever-more powerful in voice and size and are not intimidated by the show of military and police power authorised by Mubarak. After three decades in power (and what the people feel of oppression), there is call for Mubarak to step down. These are major changes and ones which need further attention.

After the protests in Tunisia where the people had grown tired of the President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and forced him to step down a similar issue is occurring in Egypt. Where the people of Tunisia were frustrated at the lack of jobs and opportunity and overall control by officials (not to mention the extortionate privileges given to the President’s extended family) the contagion of uprising against oppression has spread to Egypt. The Arab states, so long overdue, are waking up to the possibility of democracy and they feel now is the time to seize it.

As disingenuous as it may be, the economic and financial affect these protests will have are profound for Egypt. The stock exchange has been closed and Moody’s, a ratings agency, has downgraded the credit rating, further pushing up the yield required on government bonds, and has changed its outlook to negative. This has further ramifications within Egypt as many businesses have had to close, people are not earning money and inflationary pressures could complicate matters further. Furthermore, tourism, which accounts for around 5% of GDP, will be affected now and in months (if not years) to come.

What has been surprising is the lack of urgency of the global community. When a statement about the type and need for ‘transition’ comes from ex-Prime Minister (and now Middle East Peace Envoy), Tony Blair, before a statement from any acting leader or minister then this author fears the priorities are significantly different. The World Economic Forum in Davos was a likely distraction but the issue of Egypt was only discussed on the last day when fears of the Muslim Brotherhood taking power emerged. It certainly surprised this author that delegates were initially more interested in debating which economic philosophy should be supported or indeed how best to look intellectual and/or smug by stating retrospective remarks about banks and their activities. The ‘World Economy’ which is the point of the ‘Forum’ needs to take into account global issues which have multilateral effects – events such as those in Tunisia and Egypt should have been pushed up the agenda especially as mobile phones stopped working and global press targeted.

Moreover, a general feeling of ‘leave them to it’ is dangerous. According to Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, a former U.N. deputy secretary-general, said “there shouldn’t be glib, instant punditry from Davos. One’s just got to hope it emerges in the outcome as a much more inclusive government. But how they get there, when and if government changes, must be a matter for Egyptians.”

Here, this author disagrees. No longer are issues in one state isolated enough from the global impact it can have. No longer do problems in Tunisia, Egypt and potentially other Arab states mean that outside countries have no reason for concern. For example, look at Israel; Egypt, the most populous Arab state who has managed a degree of diplomacy within the Middle East is now unstable. This naturally draws in the US, who gives on average $2bn per annum to Egypt – second only to Israel.

The global ramifications are apparent and are real. What if the contagion spreads and halts those oil-rich nations? What if the problems in Egypt close the Suez Canal and stops trade for commodities? The price of a barrel of oil is already close to $100 and this could escalate putting further pressures on austere western governments. In such a globalised world as today actions in one country have worldwide consequences.

Most recently there is a call for an ‘orderly transition’ from President Obama – surely ‘orderly transition’ cannot include keeping Mubarak as head of state. Diplomacy has to be kept and pressure has to be applied and whilst this author believes that western states should not dictate or support certain groups it should play a role in keeping that ‘transition period’ as easy and painless as possible. Outside states should not ‘dictate’ but ‘manage’ the ‘transition’ if their influence is already a factor.

In a globalised world there is simply too much to risk in standing away from the table and washing hands of political responsibility and influence.

This is an historic moment for Egypt and it should not be taken lightly both in the Middle East and around the world.


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