Egyptians still await economic change

Young men and women protest in Cairo
Image caption Young men and women protest in Cairo

Seven months on from the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, there are protests pretty much every day.

Many of the demonstrations are political, but some are prompted by people's living standards.

Egyptians are demanding higher wages, better working conditions and more jobs.

"Life is tough," says Yasmine El Rashidi, an Egyptian author.

"On an economic level, there's been no change. If anything, it's become harder."

Food prices have been rising at a rapid rate, putting pressure on the poorest.

'Bleak' jobs outlook

The latest official data show the price of rice and sugar rose more than 10% just in one month, from June to July this year.

The price of tomatoes - essential to many Egyptian dishes - has almost doubled in a year.

Two-thirds of Egyptians are under 30 years old. It's thought about a third of them are unemployed, including many university graduates.

Many of these were the driving force behind the protests that led to the ousting of President Mubarak.

But they have not seen the increase in jobs they hoped the revolution would usher in.

Indeed, the overall unemployment rate is now higher than it was last year, standing at 11.9%.

"The short term is looking a little bit bleak," says Nada Al-Nashif from the International Labour Organisation's Lebanon office.

She advises: "There will have to be a large number of public employment schemes to get the transition going."

Tourists down

The Minister for Solidarity and Social Justice in the interim military-appointed government, Dr Gouda Abdel-Khalek, says Egyptians are right to demand more.

"They are justified, definitely. They have been waiting so long now, and they are... expecting to gain the benefits of that effort."

Image caption The price of food has risen sharply in Egypt

However, he adds: "Maybe they're a bit hasty."

The continuing unrest has had an impact on Egypt's economy.

The government has said potential foreign investors have cancelled visits because of the protests.

The all-important tourism sector, which dominated the economy before the revolution, has been hit hard.

Official data published this week suggests the number of tourists visiting the country has plunged since the beginning of the revolution.

Some 2.2 million people visited Egypt in April, May and June this year, compared with 3.5 million in the same period in 2010, according to the official Mena news agency.

Corruption campaign

However, the government says it wants to change the make-up of the economy.

Dr Gouda Abdel-Khalek describes tourism and construction as "important, but marginal sectors when it comes to employment generation and income generation and creating a multiplier effect within the economy".

He says the government will focus on agriculture and manufacturing in future.

But Dr Abdel-Khalek acknowledges that will not satisfy one of the demands of Egypt's protesting youth.

"Not everyone with a university degree will end up in a productive office job," he says.

Image caption Tourist visits have plunged

"Many Egyptians now are convinced increasingly that it's the dignity of the work you do and the income you receive that matters at the end of the day, rather than the type of job or sector where you work."

'Further uprising'

January's protesters also demanded an end to official corruption.

Many Egyptians say the country would be richer were it not for those linked to the former regime lining their pockets.

The Egyptian Initiative for the Prevention of Corruption has been set up to persuade new political parties that corruption must be punished.

Its chairman, Dr Ziad Bahaa Elddin, says all the main players agree with his ideas, but he would like things to move faster.

"The country is extremely busy with daily issues and, in a way, talking about preventing corruption in the future gets postponed a little bit," says the former head of the financial regulator.

The government is asking people to be patient.

Ms Rashidi, the author of The Battle for Egypt, warns people's patience will only last so long.

"There will come a point, just as it came in January. On some level, the Egyptian revolution is yet to happen. I think there will be further uprising," she says.