The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Inflation’ Category

Egypt To President Morsi: No Dictators Allowed

Posted by vmsalama on December 3, 2012

Newsweek International (click here for original link)

by Vivian Salama

December 3, 2012

Amr Darrag is on a call when a second phone in his Cairo office begins to ring. He’s been awake since 6 a.m., and the stack of papers on his desk swells with every passing minute. A leader in Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Darrag is also part of the 100-member committee scrambling to draft the country’s new constitution—a pending document that has hit every possible bump in the road since Egyptians toppled President Hosni Mubarak last year.

“We have a couple more days until we finish our mission,” says Darrag, secretary-general of the Constituent Assembly. “Those who are not interested in stability in Egypt or want to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of the scene are trying to stop us from issuing the constitution. The courts want to dismantle the assembly. The president had to stop these tricks or the country would fall into chaos.”

On Nov. 22, as Americans sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, Egypt’s first post-revolution president, Mohamed Morsi, issued a decree exempting all of his decisions from legal challenge. The move was a stunning power grab that quickly earned him the nickname “Egypt’s new pharaoh”—a title once bestowed upon his defunct predecessor. Hundreds of thousands of disbelieving Egyptians flooded city streets from Alexandria to Aswan with a familiar cry: “The people want the fall of the regime!” Tahrir Square came alive once again with tents and bullhorns and a howl so loud—so impassioned—that it was dubbed the “19th Day” of last year’s revolution. Angry female protesters returned in masses to Tahrir, resilient after months of deteriorating security that included repeated incidents of harassment and sexual assault.

tahrir lights

Morsi also declared that the courts cannot dissolve the Assembly, which many say is unfairly dominated by his fellow Islamists. As tensions built nationwide, the Assembly slammed together the first finalized draft of the constitution last week—a text that could set the course for Egypt’s future and that few have been privy to see.

“He shot himself in the foot,” says Steven A. Cook, the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Perhaps ‘new pharaoh’ is an overstatement, even though Morsi is no democrat. Somewhere within the councils of the Muslim Brotherhood, someone thought this decree would play well in Tahrir.”

Play well it didn’t. As antagonized protesters violently clashed with pro-Morsi demonstrators, the president defended his decision, insisting it is temporary and geared toward eliminating the bureaucratic hurdles obstructing Egypt’s unraveling transition. The comment inspired the snarky headline in independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm: “Morsi is a ‘temporary’ dictator.” The Brotherhood brushed off the protests as merely “politics,” distinguishing it from the 2011 revolution, when “united Egyptians revolted against autocracy.” The organization warned, via Twitter, that a revolution without the Muslim Brotherhood is no revolution.

But that was a tough sell to make to those who descended on Tahrir, driven by lingering memories from 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s chokehold. Less than two years after Egyptians earned their first taste of democracy, the country once again has a president with near-absolute power and no constitution to dictate otherwise (the decree was ironically introduced as a “constitutional declaration”). There is no Parliament, since the military generals dissolved it in June. Then the generals were replaced by Brotherhood loyalists—as were the heads of most state-run media organizations.


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Cairo University, Coptic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Inflation, International Monetary Fund, Islam, Israel, Journalism, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Newsweek, Politics, Protests, Religion, Salafi, United States | Leave a Comment »

Egyptians Return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Underline Protests

Posted by vmsalama on February 18, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Maram Mazen

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in central Cairo today to reassert demands for change, one week after street protests led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, fueling similar demonstrations throughout the Middle East.

Salesmen offered souvenir t-shirts commemorating the protests that started on Jan. 25 to the crowds who packed into Tahrir square. Some carried photographs of people killed during the unrest and others followed regular Friday religious ceremonies with prayers for the dead.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

The Health Ministry said yesterday that 365 people were killed during the demonstrations. The Egyptian army on Feb. 13 dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution, meeting demands made by the opposition movement that forced Mubarak from office two days earlier, and said it will rule Egypt until elections are held.

“I’m sure our demands will be met, but it’s better that we all come together again to show them that we’re serious,” said Mahmoud el Hady, a 23-year-old commerce student at Benha University, north of Cairo, who was wrapped in a red, white and black Egyptian flag. “Some people need to go from the old regime. We need to dismantle the national security forces.”

Demonstrations continued today in Bahrain, where people called for democracy and the fall of the government during a funeral procession for two men killed by security forces.

The dissent in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, follows the toppling of autocratic rulers by popular movements in Egypt and Tunisia and marks the spread of dissent into thePersian Gulf, where most of the Middle East’s oil is produced.

Libya, Yemen

The past week has also seen anti-government protests and clashes in Libya, Africa’s biggest holder of crude oil reserves, and Yemen, a producer of liquefied natural gas. Brent crude futures this week rose to the highest level since 2008.

The Egyptian Exchange has been closed since Jan. 27 after the biggest stock selloff in more than two years.

“We want the army to rule temporarily and then never to rule us again,” said Ali Bassam, 45, a physical education teacher. “We want anyone chosen by Hosni Mubarak to leave his position. This country has been a big prison for 30 years.”

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Inflation, Insurgency, Islam, Labor, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion, Tunisia | 1 Comment »

Egypt Calls on Nations to Provide Economic Assistance

Posted by vmsalama on February 15, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Mariam Fam

Click here for original story

Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the international community to offer support for the economy, saying it “has been greatly affected by the political crisis that has rocked the country.”

The protests that culminated in the Feb. 11 ouster of the former president, Hosni Mubarak, have led businesses to shut down, scared off tourists and pushed up Egypt’s borrowing costs. The Mubarak-appointed government, now running the country under military oversight pending elections, is forecasting slower growth. It has promised a stimulus plan to address the economic complaints of the demonstrators, such as high unemployment.

Egypt’s finance minister, Samir Radwan, said yesterday the country’s budget deficit will widen to about 8.4 percent — less than some analysts forecast — as spending increases and economic growth slows after Mubarak’s fall. The Institute of International Finance in Washington predicts the budget gap will be 9.5 percent of gross domestic product, rather than the 7.9 percent previously forecast by the government.

The turmoil has cost the nation about $1.5 billion of tourism revenue, according to Central Bank Governor Farouk El- Okdah. It has also forced companies to close and sent the currency skidding to a six-year low. Before Mubarak’s resignation, the benchmark EGX30 Index tumbled 16 percent in one week. The bourse has been closed since Jan. 27.

Economic Growth

Aboul Gheit said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Faisal al-Saud were among the officials who have called him to discuss support and developments in the country, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website late yesterday. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Inflation, Middle East, Mubarak, Persian Gulf, Politics, Qatar, Recession, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States | Leave a Comment »

Cairo Protesters Converge in Message Aimed at Defiant Mubarak

Posted by vmsalama on February 9, 2011

By Mariam Fam, Vivian Salama and Ahmed A Namatalla

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

CAIRO — Egyptians converged on the presidential palace and Tahrir Square in Cairo vowing to topple President Hosni Mubarak after he yesterday defied calls for his resignation for the second time this month.

Military helicopters flew over the palace before dusk, in the suburb of Heliopolis, after state television said the presidency would issue an urgent message “soon.” Earlier, the army beefed up its deployment downtown as tens of thousands of demonstrators poured out of Friday prayers and into the square downtown, swelling the ranks of those who camped there overnight. State television said Mubarak had left the capital.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

With the army today reiterating its support for Mubarak, attention is shifting to how far it will go as the protests gather momentum. The violence has already claimed more than 300 lives, Human Rights Watch says, and has sparked concern that further unrest will grip a region that holds more than 50 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. The protests were inspired by the revolt that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

“The nightmare of a coup is very bad for everybody, for the young people, for the economy, and that’s the scenario we would like to avoid,” Finance Minister Samir Radwan said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “The military is highly disciplined, they have taken a decision not to fire at the young people, but of course this stalemate cannot continue forever.”

Emergency Law

A group of demonstrators gathered near the presidential palace and protests were also under way in the cities of Suez and Alexandria. Mubarak and his family left Cairo and arrived in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, Al Arabiya television reported today.

The Supreme Military Council said today it will guarantee the implementation of the measures announced late yesterday in Mubarak’s televised speech, including constitutional changes and an eventual end to an emergency law that has marked his 30-year rule. In a sign the government may offer further concessions, the head of the ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, said today in an interview that an early presidential election may be possible.

Mubarak, 82, reiterated his intention to stay in office until the vote in September, while handing day-to-day powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman in a bid to placate opponents. Protesters erupted in a roar of disapproval as they listened to Mubarak’s evening address in Tahrir Square.

“In Cairo alone today it will be millions,” demonstrator Abdel Rahman Sabry, a 24-year-old engineering student, said in an interview. “Yesterday’s speech has really angered people. We tell him to go, he tells us: ‘I won’t go, you love me.’ Either he is crazy or we are crazy.”

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

‘Not Worthy’

As Muslims gathered in a mosque near Tahrir Square, the imam leading today’s prayers told them over a loudspeaker, “You are bringing down a corrupt regime that is not worthy of ruling you.”

The Supreme Military Council gathered yesterday before Mubarak’s speech to “safeguard the interests” of the nation, sparking speculation that a military takeover was in progress. The panel is now in permanent session, the first since the October 1973 war with Israel.

Global stocks fell for a third day, U.S. index futures declined, and the dollar and oil rose, after Mubarak spoke. The cost of insuring Egyptian government debt soared 42 basis points to 379, the biggest increase in two weeks, according to CMA prices. Egypt’s 10-year bond yield jumped 29 basis points. The global depositary receipts of Commercial International Bank Egypt SAE, Egypt’s largest publicly traded lender, fell the most this month, dropping 7.2 percent to $5.65.

“We were all hoping that the statement by the president yesterday should calm things down, but obviously it hasn’t,” Radwan told the BBC. “That makes for a very difficult situation where things continue to deteriorate.”

Posted in American, Arab, Arab Spring, Constitution, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Inflation, Labor, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion, Social Media, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

Muslim Brotherhood Measuring Political Possibilities in Post-Mubarak Egypt

Posted by vmsalama on February 2, 2011

By Vivian Salama, Dahlia Kholaif and Caroline Alexander

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood didn’t immediately join the spontaneous street demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak. Now the Islamist group, the country’s largest opposition faction, is positioning itself to help shape the country’s political future.

The Brotherhood waited a few days after the uprising began and then publicly supported the protesters, saying it shared their goals: an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule, a new constitution, open elections and a new all-party government. Mubarak’s Feb. 1 announcement that he won’t seek another presidential term may allow the Brotherhood, brimming with grassroots skills, to take advantage.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

“They are the most organized and most popular, with a hierarchy in Egypt in terms of membership and leadership,” said Omar Ashour, an Egyptian lecturer on Arab politics at the University of Exeter in England. “In the post-Mubarak period, they may have a role,” even though “their involvement right now isn’t major.”

Founded in 1928, the same year Mubarak was born, the Muslim Brotherhood has influenced Islamist movements across the globe, including Hamas in the Palestinian territories, which the U.S., European Union and Israel consider a terrorist organization. As conditions change in the Arab world’s most populous country, the group may have to allay concerns about the role it will play. The Brotherhood is banned from politics in Egypt, and members have had to run for office as independents.

Equal Rights

Essam al-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader who was arrested several times under Mubarak, says the opposition is united. The Brotherhood is working with “liberals, secularists, communists and every section” to ensure “the transition from a tyrannical corrupt regime to a civil democracy that guarantees equal rights to all,” he said in a telephone interview from Cairo.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is part of Egypt’s people, and we acquiesce in the verdict of the people, whatever it may be,” al-Erian said, adding that the group seeks “a democratic regime with the Islamic Sharia as a reference,” which he said already is enshrined in Egypt’s constitution. Sharia is based principally on laws from the Koran, sayings by the Prophet Mohammed and the opinions of Muslim scholars, and it’s the basis of some areas of Egyptian law though not the penal code.

That stance may conflict with other vested interests. Egypt’s military leadership is committed to the foreign policy pursued by Mubarak, who has helped Israel blockade the Hamas- ruled Gaza Strip and sought to rally Arab support against Islamic extremism.

Democratic Process

While President Barack Obama’s administration has reached out to a range of Egyptian contacts since the uprising began, it isn’t talking to the Brotherhood, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Jan. 31 when asked at a press briefing how America would view its involvement in a future government. Any group that wants to play a role must be “committed to nonviolence” and “respect a democratic process,” he said.

U.S. foreign-policy experts and former diplomats are evaluating America’s position as they gauge how the strife in Egypt might spread across the Arab world. Protests continued early this morning in Cairo, as demonstrators who demand Mubarak’s ouster clashed with supporters of the president’s regime, hurling rocks at each other in Tahrir Square.

Anti-government turmoil already has spilled over into neighboring Jordan, where King Abdullahon Feb. 1 sacked his prime minister. Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said yesterday he’ll step down when his term ends in 2013, and protesters in Algeria have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

‘Calamitous’ for Security

The Brotherhood “would be calamitous for U.S. security,” Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, wrote Jan. 29 on the Daily Beast website. The group opposes the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 and “would endanger counterterrorism efforts in the region and worldwide,” he said. “That is a very big deal.”

It “supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, makes friendly noises to Iranian dictators and torturers,” and would be “uncertain landlords of the critical Suez Canal,” he added.

The canal carries about 8 percent of global maritime trade. Crude-oil prices have risen more than 5 percent since the protests began Jan. 25 on concern that the turmoil in Egypt may disrupt supply.

The Brotherhood is “committed to all international agreements and treaties at this phase,” Mohamed al-Beltagy, a senior leader of the group, said in a phone interview. “Later, it should be left to the people to decide.”

Hijack Rebellion

The idea that the Brotherhood could hijack the anti-Mubarak rebellion has been dismissed byMohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations atomic agency chief and one of the opposition movement’s leaders. Mubarak stoked such fears to perpetuate U.S. support, ElBaradei told ABC News on Jan. 31.

“This is what the regime sold to the U.S. and the West: It’s either us and repression, or al-Qaeda type extremist groups,” ElBaradei said of the Brotherhood, describing the group as religiously conservative and nonviolent. “You have to include them.”

International companies including Amsterdam-based brewer Heineken NV, which bought Egypt’s Al Ahram Beverages Co. for $287 million in 2002, have halted operations in the country or pulled expatriate staff since the protests began. As the turmoil continued yesterday, businesses were trying to forecast the future and the likelihood of a government with Islamist influence.

‘Less Friendly’

Such a government may pursue “economic policies which cater more to social welfare but are less friendly to foreign investment from the West and business in general,” London-based risk consultant Maplecroft said in report this week.

The Brotherhood’s history fuels the concern. While its radical wing was accused of trying to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, a former president, in 1954, the group has been a persistent critic of the Mubarak regime for decades without pursuing violence.

It has survived widespread jailings of its leadership over the years to emerge as the main opposition in parliament after 2005, when it won about one-fifth of parliamentary seats by running candidates as independents. It lost ground last year when the government disqualified a quarter of its candidates from the November elections.

Broader Appeal

The Brotherhood has sought to avoid being identified as a religious movement and to broaden its appeal. Its former Supreme Guide, Mahdi Akef, instructed members in 2005 not to brandish the Koran at anti-government protests, saying that would undermine their politicking. Still the Brotherhood raised objections from other opposition groups, and dissent within its own ranks, when it proposed in 2007 that women and non-Muslims shouldn’t be eligible for the presidency.

It has fostered social and health programs for Egypt’s poor that, in turn, have helped its political prospects. The social- service model has been followed by other Islamist groups in the region with varying success.

“One could quite easily see the Muslim Brotherhood picking up 20 to 25 percent of the vote” in a free election, said Paul Rogers, a specialist in international security at Bradford University inEngland.

While the group is conservative, its brand of Islam isn’t “puritanical,” and “the idea that we are going to get an Islamic revolution in Egypt like in Iran is very unlikely, just nuts,” Rogers said.

Political Impulses

Michele Dunne, who tracks the evolving political situation in Egypt for the Carnegie Endowmentin Washington, said differences between Hamas and the Brotherhood, and their political impulses, have to be explored.

“They founded Hamas. There is a relationship,” she said of the Brotherhood. “The big difference is Hamas has used violence and arms to pursue its goals. And the Brotherhood hasn’t used violence in 40 years.”

Dunne said the U.S. likely will have to reconcile itself with whatever transpires.

“At this point, it’s irrelevant what we think about the Brotherhood. Things are moving very fast in Egypt,” she said. “If the political leadership opens up, the Brotherhood will be there.”



Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Plans to Establish Official Party — by Mariam Fam and Vivian Salama

Mubarak Orders Egyptian Army to Aid Police as Protests Against Rule Widen — by Vivian Salama, Ola Galal and Caroline Alexander


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Inflation, Internet, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Recession, State of Emergency, United States | Leave a Comment »

Egyptians Face Food Inflation by Day, Roaming Looters at Night

Posted by vmsalama on February 1, 2011

By Ola Galal and Vivian Salama

Click here for original link

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) — Shattered glass fills the streets of Cairo as pedestrians are forced to avoid army tanks that guard banks and government buildings vulnerable to looters.

Banks are closed, making it difficult for Cairenes to get cash to buy staples. For those that have money, food prices are skyrocketing as consumers flood the few open stores.

Street demonstrations and night-time riots have left the Arab world’s biggest city largely paralyzed, as protester fill the city’s main square and looters and neighborhood groups armed with clubs take over at night.

“We have to protect our homes and children at night from the looters and in the morning we have to go to work,” said Saed Ragab, a café owner from Cairo’s Bab El Louq area. “The shops are at a standstill. It’s very difficult.”

Protesters are gathering in the city for an eighth day. Today’s march is aimed at drawing a million people onto the streets and forcing President Hosni Mubarak from power after 30 years. The military promised not to fire on marchers and said it recognized “the legitimacy of the people’s demands.”

At the same time, citizens are trying to continue their lives as best they can, faced with inflated prices since the protests started escalating on Jan. 28.

Pricier Bread

“Since Friday everything started to be expensive,” said Om Massad, a door lady handling deliveries in Bab el Louq, who said 5 piester bread is not available anymore and 50 piester bread has jumped in price to 60 piesters. One Egyptian pound is made up of 100 piesters, or about 17 U.S. cents. “Shops are taking advantage of these conditions,” she said.

Shelves at many of Cairo’s supermarkets are emptying quickly with businesses failing to keep up with demand as panicked shoppers seek to stockpile in the event of further unrest. Carrefour SA has closed all seven of its Egyptian stores after looting at an outlet in a Cairo suburb, a spokesman for the company said today.

Tourists are abandoning the country. TUI Travel Plc, Europe’s largest tour operator, said about 40 percent of planned departures from Germany to Egypt were changed or annulled yesterday after it let vacationers cancel their bookings or change destinations without paying a penalty.

‘Economic Instability’

“We are seeing a negative economic impact in the short term,” said Ahmed Galal, executive director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies in Cairo. “If the new government goes for the popular package — raising wages, increasing subsidies — it might actually appear as responding to the crowd but it will likely raise inflation and economic instability.”

Low wages and rising prices have sparked protests in Egypt since 2004. The economy in the country of 80 million people, the most populous in the Arab region, probably grew 6.2 percent in the last quarter of 2010, compared with 5.5 percent in the previous three months. The government says it needs growth of at least 7 percent to create enough jobs every year.

Economic growth was expected to accelerate to that level next year, the country’s former Finance Minister, Youssef Boutros Ghali, said on Dec. 13.

Headline inflation in urban areas, the rate that the central bank monitors, picked up to 10.3 percent in December from 10.2 percent the previous month. Core inflation, which excludes the prices of fruit and vegetables as well as regulated prices, accelerated to 9.65 percent as the costs of items such as rice, sugar and poultry increased.

Protecting Food

Many Egyptians are fearful that food and gas shortages could lead the country into a deeper crisis.

Security continues to be a concern with young men forming groups to protect their homes and families from the widespread looting. Packs of men patrol at night, roaming the streets with weapons ranging from meat cleavers to metal pipes.

“They stopped grocery delivery services and there are long lines,” said Eman Shafik, an IT manager from Cairo, who added that she hasn’t been able to find a working ATM machine to access her latest paycheck. “There is a shortage in cigarettes, juice, mint. Every day the prices increase more and more and people have no cash to buy the things they need.”

Posted in Arab, Commodities, Economy, Egypt, Employment, Inflation, Mubarak | Leave a Comment »

Egyptian Antiquities Safe After Museum’s Looting, Official Says

Posted by vmsalama on January 30, 2011

By Vivian Salama

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

Cairo Museum, January 2011. Burning NDP Building in background

CAIRO — The Egyptian National Museum is safe, and cultural artifacts damaged by vandals who broke into the building during anti-government protests can be restored, the head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said.

Tourism police aided by protesters earlier apprehended nine men in connection with looting at the museum, Zahi Hawass, the council’s secretary general, said. Dozens of demonstrators had stood guard around the building, one of Cairo’s biggest tourist attractions, to protect it until troops arrived, he said.

“If you shut the lights in New York City for one hour, the people will rob everything in all the shops,” Hawass said in an interview at his office. “What’s happening is normal. Thankfully, all the damaged items can be restored.”

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the city’s Tahrir Square and across the country demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down, and most of the city’s historic sites, including the pyramids, remained off limits to the public.

Protesters flashing ‘V for victory’ signs posed for photographs with Egyptian soldiers yesterday in front of the closed museum, which was surrounded by about a dozen military tanks. The museum appeared intact, though blackened in places by smoke from a fire that had gutted the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party in an adjacent building.

The walls surrounding the museum were daubed in black graffiti that said “No to Mubarak” and “Surrender Mubarak.”

‘Criminal Act’

“The marchers are calling for a change of government, but this vandalism is a criminal act,” Hawass said.

The intruders used ropes to descend from the museum’s roof and force their way inside from a fire escape, he said. They broke open 14 display cases in the museum’s Late Period and King Tutankhamun exhibits, in search of gold. Finding none, they shattered statures, including one of the ancient goddess Isis, and smashed some of the museum’s royal mummies, Hawass said.

Police recovered two mummified skulls and other artifacts when they captured the men, he said, adding that he believed the relics could be repaired close to their original condition.

Tourism accounts for 13 percent of jobs in the Arab country. The government aims to attract 16 million tourists in 2011, expecting them to bring in $14 billion in revenue, Tourism Minister Zoheir Garranah said in an interview in October.

Hawass said he expects tourism to recover “after some time,” depending on how soon the political situation stabilizes.

Airport Campers

Flights continued to face delays at Cairo International Airport, and hundreds of tourists camped in the terminals, hoping to find seat on aircraft leaving the country.

“I’m so scared,” said Margaret Wilson of Seattle who arrived Jan. 28, at the height of the protests, with plans to stay for a week. “Nobody has been able to tell us what’s going on, and we can’t find an earlier flight.”

Some foreigners opted to wait out the upheaval and try to make the most of their time in Egypt.

“Our trip today to the pyramids was canceled, and we are waiting to hear if our cruise to Luxor is still on,” said Haarold Osvold, a civil engineer from Malaga, Spain, traveling with his wife.

“If it’s canceled,” he said, “then we’ll try our luck at going home.”

Posted in Antiquities, Arab, Arab Spring, Culture, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Gold, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Inflation, Islam, Jewelry, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Politics, Zahi Hawass | Leave a Comment »

Export Ban Frustrates Farmers

Posted by vmsalama on September 15, 2008

Vivian Salama

The National | September 15. 2008 8:13PM UAE

MUMBAI // Rice farmers are growing increasingly frustrated as their planting season nears and India’s export ban on the grain continues. With planting just two weeks away, farmers fear they will suffer financially as countries, including the UAE, turn to other markets to satisfy demand. 

India’s non-basmati rice – the most affordable and popular variety of this staple grain – has not left its borders since April. The government in New Delhi said the ban was to safeguard domestic supplies for the world’s second-largest population.

However, the embargo has many critics abroad – heavily rice-reliant countries in the Gulf – and in India. This month, the country’s food ministry estimated positive yields of 6.24 million tonnes for the coming rice season, well above the target of 5.2 million tonnes. The government has already opted to lift the ban on corn exports, saying it expected to harvest a bigger crop this year.
“We have to protect the interest of farmers,” India’s agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, told Reuters.

The Indian government had originally imposed the ban on non- basmati rice last October, but lifted it following protests from exporters. It later re-implemented the ban and added a duty of US$200 (Dh735) per tonne for the export of basmati rice. 

Now, talks to reverse the ban on certain types of rice have stalled, despite positive forecasted yields. Farmers are angered by the ban, saying it is detrimental to India’s agricultural sector.

“Farmers don’t want bans on rice or wheat,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, a paddy farmer and president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union of Punjab. “When exports are banned, farmers lose money.”

The decision by countries such as India, Egypt and Brazil to limit exports on rice as a way to curb skyrocketing prices and feared domestic shortages has been criticised by Gulf-based retailers whose businesses rely heavily on sales of the grain.

The price of the benchmark 100 per cent B grade white rice was up last week to $735 per tonne, although it has slipped with falling oil prices from its record high of $1,080 per tonne in April.

The UAE imports more than 75,000 tonnes of rice annually from countries including India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. More than 3.5 million Indians live in GCC countries, with 1.4 million in the UAE alone, making this a hot-button issue in the region.

However, those representing India’s agricultural sector insist that the stakes are even higher domestically. Agriculture is a major component of the economy, from which more than 66 per cent of Indians earn their living. 

While India currently holds a 53 per cent share in the global basmati rice market, many industry insiders are concerned that countries such as those in the GCC, which once relied heavily on India for their rice supplies, will turn to other sources such as Pakistan and Thailand to satisfy demand.

“A lot of that rice is coming into the Middle East right now, but what is happening is that non-basmati has been replaced from countries like Thailand, where prices are starting to get lower week by week,” explained Sunil Bhanji, the Middle East general manager for Tilda, which has its farms in the Indian state of Haryana.

Burhan Turkmani, the general manager of Al Rabiah Trading, based in Dubai, said: “We used to get our non-basmati rice from India but ever since the ban, we have been importing non-basmati from any other countries, like Thailand. For other types of rice, we try not to rely on India now because their prices have soared since the ban.”

Today, the food chain that takes the most basic items from the ground, and via a series of wholesalers and middlemen eventually into a retail shop and into consumers’ hands, has come under strain, with soaring oil and food prices gripping the world. Retailers in the UAE, who have been forced to cap their prices in recent months, say importers should pay the price. But importers say they are at the mercy of exporters.

“In terms of who calls the shots or holds more clout with regard to the distribution chain, it would be the middleman, often private exporters or marketing boards who take from the farmer and then set export prices,” explained Abah Ofon, a soft commodities analyst for Standard Chartered Bank.

Governments in the GCC have recently made it their priority to build up strategic food reserves to protect against export bans and high prices, while eliminating the added costs brought on by middlemen. The Government of Abu Dhabi has already finalised a scheme to purchase farmland in Northern Sudan, and is currently in talks with the governments of Pakistan, Egypt and Kazakhstan. 

Indian farmers insist that rather than curbing exports, their country’s agricultural sector would benefit far more from similar investments by the GCC countries. 

“This would bring many good things to India,” Mr Setia said. “India now encourages foreign investment and farmland investments would be a welcome step.”

Posted in India, Inflation, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

Egypt Hard Hit by Inflation

Posted by vmsalama on July 10, 2008

This is an audio feature I recorded while on assignment this week in Egypt.  It’s a wrap of my coverage.  

Click here if you’re interested.

Posted in Egypt, Inflation, Politics, Retail | Leave a Comment »

Cairo property has a traffic jam

Posted by vmsalama on July 9, 2008

Vivian Salama

The National | July 09, 2008 7:53PM UAE

Photo by Victoria Hazou

CAIRO // Egypt’s property developers say that higher market prices, brought on by an influx of Gulf-based developers and soaring construction costs, have caused a slowdown in the industry. 

Analysts estimate that only two to three per cent of Egyptians can afford the properties, priced at more than 1 million Egyptian pounds (Dh687,000), that are springing up across the country.

“This is a poor country – the people have it tough as it is,” said Hatem Issa, the general manager of Iqarat Misr, a Cairo-based property investment company. “The Gulf developers who come here work in dollars. This is a pound-driven market, so it naturally drove prices up.”

In recent years Egypt has been the emerging market of choice for many Gulf-based developers, since it offers a large domestic market with low input costs. Industry estimates place the value of Gulf investment in the Egyptian property sector in excess of $885 million per year and growing.

“Initially the effect is that [Gulf companies] instilled a level of optimism and excitement because they came in and paid a lot of money for raw land,” said Tarek Shahin, a property and construction analyst with Beltone Financial in Cairo. “They are willing to pay historically high prices for land because they think that much money can be derived from the Egyptian public.”

The most populous country in the Arab world, Egypt is home to nearly 80 million people. Ninety-six per cent of them live on only four per cent of the land, due to the sprawling deserts both East and West of the Nile.

Industry forecasts suggest a demand for 600,000 units a year in Egypt, although Mr Issa says the figure is unrealistic.

According to the UN, the urban population is expanding at a rate of 1.7 per cent a year, triggering the dispersal of Cairo’s city dwellers to outlying areas.

Intensive urbanisation projects have resulted in major developments around the capital, including Sixth of October City, New Cairo and Katameya Heights. Developers estimate that about 85 per cent of the upmarket properties built in recent years are owned by Egyptians and Egyptian expatriates. 

However, according to Mr Issa, prices are soaring at unprecedented rates, creating panic within the industry. In Sept 2006, Iqarat Misr sold villas in Sixth of October City for 800,000 pounds; today the same houses sell for 1.8m pounds.

“If the situation was moving step by step then it’s one thing, but it’s happening bam, bam, bam; not expected at all,” said Mr Issa. “If we had time to reformat our strategies and re-evaluate our costs then it might be better, but it’s happened so fast and nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.”

The impact of the Gulf-based developers’ positioning in the market is exacerbated by soaring costs. The price of steel reinforcement bars, which make up approximately 20 per cent of the total cost of construction, has risen threefold since 2006.

Despite the concerns of local developers, billboards around the capital demonstrate the ubiquity of their UAE-based counterparts. Emaar Misr has invested Dh20.33 billion in Egypt, including a Dh7.7bn development in Uptown Cairo and the Dh2.57bn Cairo Gate, a commercial and residential development.

The company will soon start a project in Marassi, an upmarket residential and tourism community built around an area of seven square kilometres at Sidi Abdel Rahman. The company paid Dh642.8m for the undeveloped land in an auction two years ago. Emaar Misr also plans to build a self-contained residential community close to the Smart Village on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

Also last year, Damac Properties announced a number of ambitious projects in Egypt, including Park Avenue, a mixed-use centre of four million square metres. It plans to build the New Cairo project, which will comprise residential and commercial properties, over an area of 6.3 million square metres.

Al Futtaim Group also recently began work on Cairo Festival City, an indoor-outdoor shopping and entertainment centre of 154,000 square metres, similar to its namesake in Dubai.

Mr Shahin said that the greatest problem brought on by luxury developments from the Gulf was a mismatch in the country’s property offerings. “Affordability is going to be an issue but the fact is, people will always need to buy a home so the question now is who will offer a project where they sell more affordable housing?”


Posted in Egypt, Inflation, Real Estate, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »