Misguided Ideas on the Egyptian Economy

Mideast Egypt Economy
(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser via

Writing in the UAE-based National, Patrick Werr outlines six common motifs that Egypt tends to rely on for the promotion of its economy.

They are dead wrong, he explains, and actually harmful. Here is the list:

  1. A strong currency means a strong Egypt
  2. Egypt has vast desert areas. With only a bit of resolve they can be turned green
  3. Egypt needs to grow its own wheat so it can stop importing
  4. The government needs to build more housing to meet growing demand
  5. The country needs megaprojects to get the economy going
  6. Moving government offices out of the city centre will ease traffic congestion

Werr has worked as a financial writer in Egypt for the past 25 years, so his experience and cultural understanding is extensive. Click on the link above to read his justifications.

But here is one section to highlight. It shows he does not oppose all megaprojects, and proposes a much better investment I heartily agree with:

The good ones, in my opinion, are the Suez Canal corridor project and the rapid expansion of power plants. If only they would add a massive expansion of metro and light rail.

Egypt currently has two operational metro lines, with a third about one-third completed. A fourth line is designed to be fully operational by 2020, with lines five and six envisioned for the future.

As a dedicated urban walker and rider of public transportation, it will be wonderful to access more of the city for the current price of $0.13. Perhaps this must rise in the months or years to come, but to assist a congested Cairo and its lower income residents, I see no better or immediately practical solution.

As for the rest of Werr’s ideas, you be the judge. But to the degree possible, judge in dialogue with Egypt, that she might find her way to a stronger economy for all her citizens.

And as an earlier post speculated, it will also benefit the world.



An Egyptian man reads the Quran while riding the metro (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
An Egyptian man reads the Quran while riding the metro (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

A few days ago I stood in the center of a crowded metro car. It was around 95 degrees, hotter inside. Strangely enough with the open windows and rotating ceiling fans, the temperature was tolerable.

Sometimes it can be preferable in the aisle, rather than squeezed five across a four person bench. But generally it is better to sit, relax, and open a book. Otherwise I stand, keep balance, and open a book.

Save for the few with a Quran, I am often the only one reading.

Sometimes I am sheepish about the content, worried it might offend any one of the strongly held political opinions of the day. On this occasion, sadly somewhat paranoid, I pull it carefully from my bag, turn the cover inward against my body, and then open to read.

There are many Egyptians proficient in English, but generally speaking everyone on the metro minds their own business. Still, who knows if a troublemaker with wandering eyes wants to take issue with a foreigner? Especially when not reading, my eyes often wander as well, curious how others pass the time.

The best way to get a seat in a crowded metro is to move to the center and hope those in front of you get out at a nearby stop. It makes for a fun guessing game. Should I choose the family with small kids, or the young university students? Will it be the old man, or the fully covered lady?

This time I had no choice, and just filed into my spot. In front of me was a Quran reader intoning quietly, sitting next to a similarly aged young man playing Candy Crush on his smartphone.

At that moment a familiar sound emerged from the far left end of the car. “By God, please help me,” called out a medium-sized woman dressed completely in black. “God reward you for your kindness, I need food for my children.”

As she worked her way through the crowded car a few people slipped her a coin. But upon completion of her plea another familiar sound came from the far right. “Four pens for five pounds, and get the fifth one free,” the middle aged, somewhat shabbily dressed salesman belted. “Check them out, the best pens in Cairo.”

One or two people handed him the requested bill, but as they did with the covered lady, most ignored him. The two alternated cries as they moved down the aisle.

In the middle, all converged. The Quran and Candy Crush. Begging and enterprise. Middle class youth, lower class poverty, and foreign wealth.

Each was seeking something: a small profit, a trip downtown. For me the metro is the fastest way from here to there. At thirteen cents, it is also the cheapest.

But it is also a chance to learn in transit. Not just the book. The metro is a microcosm of society, a dose of reality piercing the bubble of a more insular Maadi.

Most travel in silence. But whether in hope or complaint, the face of the nation is witnessed clearly. Within it is a valuable lesson to Egyptian and foreigner alike.

The Cairo metro is home to all.


Metro Etiquette

Tonight I rode on the metro here for the first time WITH the kids and WITHOUT Jayson.  I’ve taken the metro by myself, and with Jayson, and with Jayson and the kids, but not on my own with the kids.  It actually went quite smoothly as the girls cooperated beautifully.

I am always impressed on public transportation at people’s kindness to the stranger.  I first noticed it in Tunisia when we would ride the bus.  When I entered the bus with a small child (or two), inevitably, someone would rise from their seat and offer it to me.  I haven’t ridden public transportation in the US ever, so I don’t know if the same rules apply there, but I always appreciated being able to sit down with the little one(s).

I think the same rules apply here in Egypt, but there is an interesting twist here.  One of the best features of the Egyptian metro system is their inclusion of a “ladies only” car.

Actually, there are two cars on each metro that are just for women.  I believe they differ slightly in that one of the cars allows men after a certain hour, but the other one is only for women all the time.  This is nice since the metro is often crowded, and at times crowded conditions can invite unwelcome attention.  Knowing one can enter a car reserved for just women gives a certain peace of mind.

I’ve ridden the metro by myself only a couple times, and have always chosen the women’s car at those times.  I was surprised a couple times to see some men in this car, but they definitely kept their distance from the women.  I could see that the women ruled in this car, and sometimes they would tell the men they shouldn’t be there.  Other times it seemed the men were with the women, but again, they kept their distance from the women they didn’t know.  The whole science of the “ladies only” car would be an interesting one to study if I had time to just ride the metro whenever I wanted.

But, alas, I don’t.  I can, however, make some observations from what I saw tonight. Jayson had a meeting downtown so we took the first leg of the journey together on the men’s car.  When I was on the first leg of the journey someone gave their seat up for me pretty quickly.  Later on, after Jayson left, I wondered if that might be one of the negatives of the ladies car.  I think that in general, the men might feel a little more obliged to give their seat up for a woman with small children, but for some reason, other women might not.  In some ways, you would think that they would feel more sympathy and offer their seat more readily, but I think there is something inside a man that just wants to help a woman in “distress.”  Anyway, at least on the first leg, someone offered me a seat.  I sat down with Hannah on one leg as it’s hard to put her in the middle of my lap as baby #3 is taking up more space these days.  Emma wanted to sit on her own so she sat right next to me.  I remember thinking at that point that it was nice to be in this position.  I never really had to think about getting up to offer someone a seat, as long as I had two little ones with me.  After all, there is a sign there which indicates the seats are there for, to translate literally, people with special needs: the elderly, the pregnant, women with young children, and the handicapped.

I didn’t even have to notice others’ needs as long as I was one of the needy ones.  As such, we had a nice, comfortable ride all the way to the first stop where we switched metros and Jayson went on his way.

The second leg took a little more work, but not too much.  These particular women must not have believed in the “woman in distress” theory, because when I boarded with two children in tow, and a third in my belly, no one made a motion to move.  Instead, an American twenty-something woman, who was also standing, noticed me, and asked someone if I could take her seat.  The sitting woman readily got up for me, but again, she didn’t do it on her own.  So we got to sit for that leg of the journey as well.

The return trip, also in a women’s car, went pretty well as someone got off their seat almost immediately and let me sit in a seat.  The girls were able to enjoy some lollipops that I had promised them during this twenty minute leg of the journey before we had to switch metro lines one last time.  We got on our last metro at a main station, so even the women’s car was quite crowded, and I as I looked around at the women seated, trying not to make eye contact exactly, but trying to notice if anyone made any slight motion to me, I realized that no one was making a move to get up.  Oh well. I did my best to keep my balance holding two little hands.  But nearby was a woman dressed in the niqab (a head covering that also covers the whole face except for two eye holes), and holding a toddler on her lap.  Her six year old daughter may have been on her lap as well, I didn’t notice at first, but almost immediately she saw my need and offered half her lap for one of my children.  Emma refused, so I put Hannah there instead where she played fairly happily for most of the ride.  I kind of marveled at the woman’s kindness as I thought about my ride earlier that evening when I didn’t even look for other people in need since I was the needy one.  I was grateful for her kindness and she even got up halfway through the ride when Hannah refused to sit on her lap any longer, and offered her seat to me.  Granted, she was getting out earlier than I was, but still, she gave up her space for me.

This was a good lesson for me to not just expect other’s kindness, and in some ways, demand it of them as I fit the description of a “needy passenger.”  Instead, I should look for ways that I can help others in need. I owe a big ‘thanks’ to the stranger in the niqab for teaching me about seeing others’ needs above my own.