A year of opportunity: Egypt

04 January 2008
Cairo is promising continued and impressive economic growth in 2008. But as it presses ahead with its economic reform programme, it risks leaving its most vulnerable citizens by the wayside. If it is to put an end to growing worker discontent, it must fulfil its promises of greater socio-economic inclusion.

Last year, the government recognised that while the economy has been performing well, the vast majority of the population has not felt the benefits. It has said that wealth distribution is now a priority. The realisation has not come a moment too soon. In September, workers at several factories went on strike to protest over low wages and unpaid share of profits. The government did not resort to the use of force - a tactic it has often used to quell protests - and instead moved quickly to placate the workers. A violent response could have resulted in the industrial action spreading.

Political inclusion will also prove challenging. In April, Egypt will hold local council elections, which were postponed for two years in 2006. The postponement was seen as a way for the government to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from gaining strength. In the 2005 parliamentary election, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) lost 93 seats in the People’s Assembly as the Muslim Brotherhood gained 71.

The 2008 council elections are likely to cause some controversy - there will almost certainly be allegations of vote-rigging by the government.

Meanwhile, the issue of presidential succession will continue to weigh on the minds of government and opposition members alike. At the NDP’s ninth annual conference in November, President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, strengthened his position in the party, making him eligible for presidential election in 2011.

The government says it is not concerned with succession for now. But with persistent speculation about the president’s health becoming a distraction, it is an issue that Cairo cannot ignore.

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