Economic Squeeze Plays Out On Egyptian Streets

David Greene talks to Farah Halime, a Cairo-based financial journalist who writes about Egypt's economy. Whether President Morsi caves to protesters' demands to step down, whoever ends up running the country will have to deal with a terribly deteriorating economy. Halime's blog is called the RebelEconomy.com.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

The political situation in Egypt is continuing to unravel - with the Egyptian military giving President Mohamed Morsi a 48-hour deadline to resolve his differences with hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets.

Now at the root of these protests is a rapidly deteriorating economic situation. A million Egyptians have lost their jobs since 2010 - just before the Arab Spring - 80 percent of the nation's unemployed are under the age of 30. Inflation is also on the rise and the Egyptian currency is in decline.

To learn more about the economic squeeze, we've reached Farah Halime. She's an economics journalist and blogger based in Cairo.

Farah, good morning and thanks for coming on.

FARAH HALIME: Hi, David. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Can you look back for us a bit, if you can, and tell us how economic life has really changed in the country over the past year?

HALIME: In terms of economy, Egypt has seen a rapid decrease in the quality of life for normal Egyptians - and that's even worse for Egypt's poor - the 40 percent that live below the poverty line. And so we've seen a drastic spike in the jobless rate. The domestic currency - the Egyptian pound - the value of that has fallen by almost 15 percent. And we've seen a struggle in the country being able to provide for the nation through fuel and the bread subsidies.

GREENE: Why are people so convinced that getting rid of the Morsi government will make things better?

HALIME: For many people the government has really failed on a lot of fronts in terms of bettering their own lives, and they expected when Morsi was elected in June 2012, people really expected their quality of life to improve dramatically. And that means better wages, more equal job opportunity, better access to fuel and bread. But, in fact, that's just gotten worse. So really, the government has been a dire disappointment for Egyptians. They haven't even achieved the few promises that were made - like clearing traffic on the streets and making Cairo a cleaner city. This is, you know, a repeat of what we saw in 2011. If we get rid of the head, maybe we can hope for a better future. But that's not necessarily the case this time around. In fact, it may make the situation even worse for Egyptians here.

GREENE: Yeah. I wonder if this situation is different because you have the nation's first democratically elected leader. And there's an argument probably, that when any country goes through a political transition, a country that's politically polarized, I mean you're going to go through a time when the economy is not in good shape. And I wonder if there's something, you know, we just all have to muddle through here and not do anything rash.

HALIME: Absolutely. There is a very clear argument that if we go through a huge period of chaos and confusion by forcing another president to resign after just one year in office, this is not going to help Egypt. It will only cause more uncertainty at a time when Egypt really - that's the last thing Egypt needs. And this only has terrible ramifications for an already struggling economy. We can't put further pressure on the company right now, otherwise we will see a crisis in terms of fuel shortages and even more depreciating pounds and more social unrest.

GREENE: We've been speaking with Farah Halime about the difficult economic situation in Egypt right now, as the country remains in a state of protest.

Farah, thanks so much for talking to us.

HALIME: Thank you very much.

GREENE: She's an economics journalist based in Cairo. And her blog is called the RebelEconomy.com.

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