THE BLOG

Egyptians Want Job Security

07/22/2013 12:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 21, 2013
Amin Abu Hashem

Amin Abu Hashem took the photo above while participating in protests near Cairo University. He describes the protests as "having a carnival-like feeling to it: lots of fun, tons of food, and anti-Morsi chants."

Amin Abu Hashem has lived in Egypt all his life, and he thinks the media has fundamentally misunderstood what is going on there. "What we ultimately want is food in our bellies and money in our pockets," Amin said. "The economy is the main reason people were unhappy with Morsi's rule."

Amin recalled common chants echoing in the streets during the last elections: "Bread, freedom, social justice." He said that Mohammad Morsi, Egypt's recently deposed leader, had failed at following through on his promises. "The everyday man on the street will not give Morsi any credit," Amin said.

Egypt has experienced only a slow 2.2 percent GDP growth as investments continue to decline and an alarming number of people (13 percent, officially) remain unemployed. Another study shows that a quarter of Egyptians are impoverished, making less than the equivalent of $500 USD a year.

A push by Egyptians for an increased minimum wage has received minimal news coverage. Egyptians had struggled to establish a livable minimum wage for decades under Mubarak. Until 2011, the minimum wage has stayed stagnant at a mere 35 Egyptian pounds per month. That translates to about $6 USD per month.

After the revolution in 2011, which resulted in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians saw a modest increase in the minimum wage, but grew increasingly frustrated over its slow implementation and vague legal language about who would benefit. Even once established, the new minimum wage did not go far enough for many Egyptians.

Nearly 14 million Egyptians experienced food insecurity in 2011, and that number is likely to go up as the economy continues to decline. About 66 percent of surveyed households' expenditures went towards food costs, and nearly 94 percent of households surveyed reported static incomes.

Egyptians are frustrated that their conditions have not significantly improved since the revolution. Amin told me that frequent blackouts leave millions of Egyptians without lights or cool air in the summer months. "I sleep in 110 degree heat, and I wake up mad," he said. And while he considered this a relatively minor complaint, "small things add up that make your day progressively worse."

Amin said another important issue in Egypt is "wasta," a colloquial term for corruption which literally translates to "friend of mine." Amin said that if you have money and the right connections, you could get out of anything -- including the "mandatory" military conscription once you turn 18. Amin said while Egyptians have a lot of freedoms compared to, say, Iran, Egyptians want fairness under the law and a level playing field.

Amin said he believes that while Egypt is slowly moving towards democracy, it cannot happen overnight -- and meanwhile, the media paints a picture of naïve Egyptians who want instantaneous democracy. But democracy isn't Egyptians' immediate concern -- in a Pew research study, three in four Egyptians said the economy is deteriorating, as is law and order and morality.

According to Amin, the deposition of Morsi was democratic because more people signed a petition asking for his stepping down than had originally voted for him. From 2012 to 2013 alone, the satisfaction rates in Egypt plummeted by nearly 25 points, while the number of Egyptians who have a negative view of Egypt's economic prosperity has surged over 20 points.

It's true that Egyptians want elections, accountability, fairness under the law and an eventual stable, secular democracy. But Egyptians want jobs and living wages even more. Egypt is so revolutionary because people don't make enough money to buy food.

This post originally appeared on genprogress.org