Behind the Egyptian Crisis: Resource Stress?

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The role of political Islam is one of the key issues involved in the conflict in Egypt. So, of course, is the legacy of decades of authoritarian rule, not to mention deep economic problems. But British journalist Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes today in the online journal, Quartz, that there's something else going on in Egypt that we're not hearing much about and that's a growing resource crisis in the country and in the region. And, Nafeez, when you talk about a resource crisis, what in particular are you seeing in Egypt? Are we talking energy? Food? Water? All of 'em?

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed: Yeah, I definitely think that all of these kinds of crises are interacting and creating the problems we see in Egypt. And it's very important not to kind of reduce the problems just to one of these issues. It's, in fact, the way in which these issues affect each other and multiply with challenges for the country overall.

Werman: Well, pull one of 'em out for us like energy, for example.

Ahmed: Well, energy definitely I think was one of the most central issues. I think it's not really talked about very much when it comes to Egypt's economic challenges. In 1996, Egypt's oil production peaked, so its oil production has been declining. So since then we've seen that the state revenues have plummeted and that's had a major impact on it's ability to maintain subsidies of these kit commodities of food and fuel and that has obviously impacted the Egyptian consumers because Egyptians spend half of their income on food, so having that subsidy reduced has a major impact on the everyday life of the everyday Egyptian.

Werman: I'm just curious how you can be certain that these resource issues are the underlying causes of these conflict rather than just something that's happening at the same time. Isn't it more coincidence that these economic troubles were peaking at the same time that Morsi was trying to consolidate his power, sending tens of thousands of people into the streets?

Ahmed: Well, I think it's important not, again, to kind of not kind of say that the resource issues are the only factor. That would be a mistake. I think what's interesting to see, well, why is it that we had this coincidence, for example, between the rocketing food prices say in 2011, when across the region we had food riots going on that was linked not just to [??], but also to the impact of climate change on all its major food [??] regions. And so I think it's quite plausible when you look at those issues in the way in which we see that impact that there was a link. There are these very entrenched physical grievances and without those physical grievances we wouldn't necessarily have had this kind of momentous response

Werman: I mean I can see how a resource crisis leads to an economic crisis and that obviously can lead to instability. But if these are such strong economic factors in pushing Egypt into its current crisis, why aren't more people talking about it?

Ahmed: Well, I think one of the reasons is is that, well, one of the symptoms of the crisis in terms of the economic problems is that there's so much poverty and illiteracy, illiteracy rates. So that kind of thing means that people aren't necessarily equipped to kind of grasp what's going on. They don't have access to information and, of course, they're living in a society where the media has for many decades been heavily controlled. So access to that kind of critical information which would look, for example, at these issues like oil supplies, how does that impact on food, issues like climate change, how that might be affecting Egypt's ability to grow food and things like that, it's not that easy to get that kind of information even for someone who has the ability to kinda go to university and can afford an education.

Werman: Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes for Quartz, The Guardian, and other outlets. We've got a link to his piece on the resource crisis and the Egyptian crisis at Nafeez, thanks a lot.

Ahmed: Thanks so much, Marco.