Pressure builds on Mubarak to solve domestic problems
Cairo — In Cairo's lower-middle-class district of Munira recently, a cleaning woman collapsed into a chair in near despair.
She had just returned from the Ministry of Housing. The building her apartment was in collapsed four years ago and she has been waiting ever since for the government to provide her with a new home. The ministry told her yet again they had nothing, not yet.
''The rich people in this country can live happily and have whatever they want,'' she said bitterly, ''and the poor people are left on their own to make do. And our President (Hosni Mubarak) does nothing.''
Her meek voice, although drowned out in the vast movement of this city of 10 million, reflects the growing mood of impatience in Egypt for the President Mubarak to deliver on his early promises of economic reform and social justice.
Until now, the Mubarak regime has existed in a state of almost suspended animation, seeking to neutralize the opposition as it has awaited, with bated breath, the final Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. Mr. Mubarak has notably refrained from any actions which might antagonize any of the special interest groups in Egypt, whether it be Islamic fundamentalist, the political opposition, or the cadres of his own party.
But in the coming months he will face mounting pressures to act more forcefully and decisively on the country's pressing domestic issues.
One of the areas of immediate concern is Egypt's economy.
For the last five yeares, Egypt has sustained an impressive growth rate of 8 to 10 percent through rapid growth of its four major foreign exchange earners - petroleum exports, remittances from Egyptians working abroad, tourism, and Suez Canal traffic.
Growth in these four key sectors began to level off last year, and this year's revenue is down due to several causes: There is a glut in the world oil market; tanker traffic is down in the Suez Canal; tourism dropped off this fall due to President Anwar Sadat's assassination; and new currency regulations, which also discouraged Egyptians working abroad from depositing their earnings in Egyptian banks.
Growth in commodity exports has been outstripped by a growing imports bill. Egypt's trade deficit in 1980-81 was $4.2 billion, 19 percent more than the previous year. It is still growing.
Egypt will begin to experience balance of payments pressures this year.
It is difficult to see where rapid growth can be sustained other than in the petroleum sector. Industry and agriculture in Egypt have been virtually stagnant. Meanwhile, as many as 400,000 Egyptians will begin entering the labor force annually. The public and private sectors in Egypt already have an oversupply of labor, and other Arab countries may not be able to continue indefinitely sponging up the spillover. The government faces the very real prospect of high domestic unemployment among a volatile youthful population. So far there is no clear-cut economic strategy.
In his policymaking until now Mr. Mubarak has placed a premium on consensus-building from all shades of Egyptian political views.
A widely publicized economic conference held in February was billed as the first major step toward the development of a new economic strategy for Egypt. It came and went without any major conclusions, and was a major letdown to the public, which had been led to expect bold new initiatives.
As one elegantly dressed Egyptian businessman at a recent conference here remarked, ''Any student of elementary economics could have come up with those results.''
Mr. Mubarak might find he may have to abandon his preferred consensus-building, and make controversial economic decisions against the wishes of powerful domestic interest groups. At the moment, different cross-currents are buffeting economic decisionmaking, and it is unclear as to who exactly in the government is guiding economic policy.
It is thought that the 1982-83 budget which begins in July, will be a good indication of the government's planning priorities.
Mr. Mubarak will also be facing growing political pressures in the coming months.
Many politically aware Egyptians, not least the Islamic activists who are visible again on Cairo streets, believe there is a corrupt class in power. They expect Mr. Mubarak to make wide-ranging changes in his Cabinet, the Egyptian parliament, and a complete overhaul of public institutions.
Says one young university professor, an ardent member of the Gma'at Islamiyya , the Islamic groupings on Egyptian campuses, ''Rashad Osman (defendant in the first major corruption trial this year) is a victim of a corrupt apparatus. He is only one input in our system . . . Everywhere you find someone imposed on the people. What we find now was imposed by Anwar Sadat. Mubarak hasn't said anything of what he plans to do. What is his plan?''
''He must change the corrupted faces around him,'' says another young academic, also a member of the Gma'aa Islamiyya.
In May, two Egyptian opposition party newspapers banned by Mr. Sadat, al-Shaab of the Socialist Labor Party, and al-Ahaly of the National Progressive Unionist Rally, will be reissued.
''They will begin by being nice,'' says one Egyptian journalist, ''but if he doesn't do something, the opposition will have something to say about it.''
Most Egyptians believe that Mr. Mubarak is a simple, honest man who sincerely desires change, but many are now questioning his ability to bring about the necessary reforms.
From the ruling National Democratic Party, which controls most of the major political posts of the country, and a large part of the economic activity, have come strong counterpressures against radical change.
The findings from the first corruption trials suggest that a dark vein of corruption runs into the highest of government circles.
Mr. Mubarak faces conflicting goals of stability for the economic and political well-being of the country and the guaranteed flow of future investment , and the inescapable, pressing need for far-reaching change.
Until now, Mr. Mubarak has not developed a coterie of advisers who could be said to be ''Mubarak'' men, except for the director of his office for political affairs, Ossama al-Baz.
He has relied to a large extent on old political players and the establishment Sadat left in place to help him run the government. His sole Cabinet reshuffle in January, on the heels of the findings of a corruption trial which implicated several of his ministers, brought an entirely new economic team. But it is so nondescript, however, that the widely prevailing belief here is that it is an interim Cabinet, until Mr. Mubarak decides what he wants to do.
''He's in thin air until now,'' believes one opposition member, ''in a nongravitational field. He's trying to neutralize the opposition but he hasn't won them over . . . He can't afford to build his popularity on the basis that he is against Sadat. He has argued until now, give me until April. But what happens after?''After an initial, very favorable reception in October, Mr. Mubarak is now getting mixed reviews from the public.When asked what he thought of Mr. Mubarak, a factory worker said, ''We do not see him. He sits all day long locked up in his palace. People say he is afraid of being killed. They say he is not sure if he is stronger than the fundamentalists yet.''One key element which is receiving more attention now is the role the army will play in the future of the country, whether Mr. Mubarak will be tempted to fall back to a military method if the political and economic pressures closing in on him become too great.''Maybe one of the reactions will be,'' reasons one analyst, ''if he can't deal with this civilian mess, to go back to the Army for several years of law and order rule.''Others believe a solid reconciliation with the Arab world can give Mr. Mubarak a measure of economic and political independence.Mr. Mubarak still has the basic sympathy and good will of most of the population, but the months ahead will be a crucial time of testing for the new president.