What I had witnessed was not one of the vast, telegenic protests of the Egyptian revolution. It was one of thousands of smaller acts of rebellion against authority taking place throughout the country every single day. One human rights group recorded 3,817 separate protest actions in Egypt in 2012, work stoppages, hunger strikes, sit-ins, road blockades, invasions of government offices, even attempted public suicides.
Many of these protests center on worsening economic conditions. Political unrest, in turn, drives tourists and foreign investors away. Economic anxiety ratcheted up again last weekend, when in a bid to keep negotiations for an IMF loan on track, the government introduced a new currency system for auctioning its reserves of US dollars, causing a sharp drop in the value of the Egyptian Pound. On New Year’s Eve, the currency exchanges in the elite Zamalek district were crowded with worried members of the upper classes, many attempting to buy dollars.
The trouble is, while an IMF loan is seen as the easiest way to stabilize the economy, currency devaluation, cuts in subsidies, and other measures demanded by the IMF will cause more economic pain for most Egyptians—just look at Greece. If anything, the squeeze on ordinary Egyptians will only destabilize the situation here even further.
Egypt enters 2013 facing two interlocking crises: one political, one economic. As analyst Elijah Zarwan told me: “Morsi faces the same Catch-22 Mubarak did, only more acutely: The economy is sick, but the cure is as painful as the disease. Mubarak believed he had time to delay. Morsi does not have the luxury of that illusion.”