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EGYPT: Government 's political missteps

April 11, 2010 |  7:52 am


With Mohamed ElBaradei and opposition groups pressuring the government for reform, one might have thought that President Hosni Mubarak would be doing more to persuade Egyptians to have faith in his nearly three-decade-old regime.

Instead, the government recently has made a number of political missteps. Even before ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, emerged as a possible presidential candidate, the government experienced financial setbacks that angered many Egyptians. For more than a week last month, for example, families faced an increase of about $6 in the price of butane gas tubes for stoves and water generators.   

"I make less than that sum per working day, so how can I spend it all on butane? I once had to wait for four hours to find a tube, which I had to pay 35 pounds [$6.31] for," Mohamed Tolba, a security guard, told The Times. 

Days after the butane crisis, the country confronted a shortage of diesel gas, which is used in tens of thousands of trucks, buses and cars as a substitute for the more costly benzene. The problem caused a transportation crisis for the myriad Egyptians who rely on fleets of privately owned minivans rather than public buses.

"For days, we used to have long queues of small buses and trucks desperate to get their vehicles fueled," Abdel Gawad Khalifa, a worker at a gas station told The Times. "We couldn’t fulfill the demands because the amount of diesel we were getting was way below the normal. I personally don’t exactly know why diesel was scarce, but I know for sure it was."

Officials blamed both crises on agents and wholesalers, who they said withheld large amounts of butane and diesel gas to increase prices. Most Egyptians, however, weren’t convinced; they blamed the government for creating the shortages.

"Crises like these keep coming one after another, and we never find out the real reasons for their occurrence," Tolba said. "But authorities let them happen, and I tell you we'll have further shortages like these again and again."

Then came the April 6 Youth Movement attempt to protest Egypt's emergency law. Police beat and arrested dozens of demonstrators on Tuesday, making it clear the government would not tolerate such political activism. It was another indication that ElBaradei, who is gathering opposition figures around him as he calls for democratic reform and better living conditions, is irritating the government.

By allowing financial and political setbacks like these to occur, the government may be doing ElBaradei a favor, aggravating Egyptians who may then turn away from the ruling regime.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: An April 6 protester is held back by plainclothes officers. Credit: Associated Press