EACH day the Gulf war continues, Egypt's debilitated economy
Egyptians returning from Iraq and Kuwait are clamoring for jobs,
revenues from salaries of other workers in the Gulf are down, as are
tourism and earnings from the Suez Canal. These problems have
aggravated the persistent trials of a massive $50 billion foreign
debt, rapidly growing population, and bloated public sector.
Western and Gulf countries' promises of aid and forgiveness of
debt and the government's struggle to go ahead with the
International Monetary Fund's (IMF) reforms may give the economy
some relief in the future. In the meantime, Egyptians are using
every means they can to survive.
Nowhere are Egypt's economic woes more evident than in the
tourist industry. Tour operators say almost all tours have canceled.
Hotel lobbies remain empty, and airlines are canceling flights
because of the decrease of travel.
Another problem created by the war is the return of more than
500,000 workers from Iraq and Kuwait. These people will not only
need jobs, but their arrival means a sharp decrease in foreign
remittances for Egypt as well.
Suez Canal earnings are also down, a result of increased
insurance premiums on ships going the waterway, according to Ezzat
Adel, the canal's chairman.
In total, the soaring costs from the Gulf war were recently
estimated at $13.7 billion, twice the original figure, according to
Prime Minister Atef Sedki.
Surprisingly, despite the economy's continued decline, there are
not hordes of idle Egyptians on the street, nor are they starving.
As times get tougher, the people are using their characteristic
resourcefulness to get by.
They scrape out a living in the most unlikely ways, sharpening
knives, locating parking spaces on Egypt's busy streets, delivering
tea, and dispersing wafts of incense.
Oriental carpet repairers are tucked into the nooks and crannies
between rows of shops, peddlers of facial tissue maneuver through
traffic, and fruit and vegetable sellers are asleep in front of
their crates loaded with produce. This is Egypt's informal market, a
growing segment that is helping relieve the people's financial
"It has and it is keeping people employed," said Heba Handusa,
the former head of American University in Cairo's economics
department. "It's the sector that's most sensitive in providing new
There exists little information about the informal market by its
"It is the sector which the government knows nothing about and
desires to know nothing about," said Ibrahim el-Issawy, economics
professor at the Institute of National Planning. …