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Egypt now faces huge challenges

Egyptian protesters have toppled the country's long time strongman Hosni Mubarak, but enormous challenges -- such as revamping its political system and fighting endemic corruption and poverty -- remain.

world Updated: Feb 15, 2011 21:57 IST

Egyptian protesters have toppled the country's long time strongman Hosni Mubarak, but enormous challenges -- such as revamping its political system and fighting endemic corruption and poverty -- remain.

Mubarak stepped down on Friday after 18 days of popular protests, and the military junta now governing in his place has promised political reforms. On Sunday, the army dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and said it would "run the affairs of the country on a temporary basis for six months or until the end of parliamentary and presidential elections."

On Tuesday, it gave a panel of experts 10 days to revise the constitution.

"It's going to be messy and long," said Amr Hamzawy, research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut. "What are you going to do with the security apparatus? What are you going to do with the so called state information agencies?" Hamzawy asked. "What are you going to do with the institutionalisation of a dialogue between the military council and other actors in society, which is not yet there?"

Egyptian political analyst Amr Shubaki said another issue will be transferring the ideas of the uprising that overthrew Mubarak into everyday life and politics. "I think the challenge will be how we can transfer the idea of this revolution in the daily life ... how this new generation and the youth can establish new political parties, new ideas," he said.

In addition to political reform, corruption is another major challenge which Egypt must tackle. "The situation has been that corruption is very widely spread, and in all sectors," said Omnia Hussien, the Egypt programme coordinator for anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

"The legal framework and the implementation" have "major gaps that allow for corruption," Hussien said. Building "a system where these issues can be addressed is going to be a challenge."

There are a variety of problems with existing Egyptian anti-corruption agencies, he said. "We've identified many issues with these anti-corruption agencies. Their independence is one, their resources and capacity is a second. "Their mandate usually is just investigative, but (they) don't have the authority or the teeth to actually move on corruption issues."

Non governmental monitoring organisations also face difficulties. "Media and civil society are watchdogs for corruption," Hussien said, but they face "a very restrictive environment," including legal obstacles and "extreme limitation in access to information." Egypt's prosecutor general has received a flood of requests for corruption investigations and the high volume itself poses a challenge. "It's a lot for the prosecutor general's office to handle," Hussien said.

A judicial source said that several ex-ministers and officials will be questioned in the coming days on corruption charges. They include former trade and industry minister Rashid Mohammed Rashid, former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi, former interior minister Habib al-Adly and businessman Ahmed Ezz.

However, despite the challenges, the fall of Mubarak's regime "definitely is an opportunity for anti-corruption work," Hussien said. Yet another challenge is Egypt's economy, on which demonstrations have taken a heavy toll in a country already struggling even before the revolt with high unemployment and inflation.

Around 40% of the country lives around or under the poverty line of two dollars a day, according to the World Bank. At the height of the revolt, Egypt was haemorrhaging more than $300 million a day, according to a report earlier this month from French bank Credit Agricole, which lowered a growth forecast for 2011 from 5.3% to 3.7%.

The uprising that ended Mubarak's 30-year rule splintered into strikes by workers in the banking, transport, health care, oil, tourism and textiles sectors, as well as state-owned media and government bodies.

The industrial action abated on Tuesday as Egyptians marked the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, but threaten to flare again as Egyptians use their newly won freedom to press for higher wages.