Egypt’s impatient revolution

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Egypt’s impatient revolution

At least on the surface, Cairo seems better than it used to be before the revolution two-and-a-half years ago, and before the presidential election last year. It is hard to find old black gypsy taxies, and most cabs are the white cars with meters. You can spot clean, new coffee chains in busy downtown streets. Supermarkets in middle-class neighborhoods feature imported goods, and young people increasingly use smartphones and tablets.

However, nine out of 10 people I spoke with say that not much has improved and everything has worsened. They complain that making a living has become even harder. Their anticipations from the revolution did not come true.

After the Egyptian revolution, everything old became outdated. Old taxis and coffee shops were replaced with new ones. The fastest way to live the new world was to breathe the air of “freedom,” and it was easy to identify the freedom in a capitalist society as the “satisfaction of the desire to buy.”

The market tackled the suppressed consumer appetite, but the economy of the average citizens did not improve. Workers now make more money thanks to their demand for wage increase, but prices increased as well. As the currency value dropped due to the political uncertainty after the revolution, the price of oil also went up.

Despite being an oil producer, Egypt still imports refined oil as it does not have refinery facilities. The gasoline and fuel supply is not stable, so if you want to avoid long lines at gas stations, you have to pay double on the black market. Worsened government finances has led to fewer supplements and subsidies.

In short, the eye-level of consumers and the real economy went in opposite directions after the revolution. In a way, it is a natural outcome. Revolution itself does not create wealth. Rather, in most cases, revolution triggers more demand from workers and adds a burden on the economy with market uncertainty. While Korea could avoid the painful paradox thanks to the low exchange rate, low oil prices and low interest rates after the revolution in June 1987, Egypt was not so lucky.

Egyptians are short-tempered and cannot wait patiently. Constant honking in traffic reveals how Egyptians cannot allow even the smallest space or shortest wait.

The citizens and military worked together and elected a president, only to oust him after a year. A politician referred to it as a “recall.” Celebrating the opening of Revolution 2.0, Egyptians rejoiced with fireworks and fighter jet air shows. The military authority removed the incumbent president, suspended the constitution, appointed a new president and claimed that it still is not a coup. The citizens who wish for the return of the ousted president, who is now in confinement at an unknown location, are fighting against the military.

Regardless of which side they pick, most Egyptians are dreaming of yet another new day. I hope their wishes come true this time.

*The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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