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Poverty rises in Egypt as country moves towards a new beginning

On Saturday, an Egyptian court ordered the dissolution of former President Hosni Mubarak’s political party, the National Democratic Party (NDP).

The NDP dominated Egyptian politics since its foundation in 1978 and reformers had been calling for its end and the liquidation of all the party’s assets, so any remaining funds could be returned to the people. The dissolution of the NDP is being seen by many Egyptians as a vital step towards a new multi-party system. Many of the party’s former officials have been arrested on a range of charges and like their former leader, are awaiting trial.

As a further key move towards democracy, Amnesty International has called this week for the lifting of Egypt’s emergency laws which have been in place for 30 years. According to the human rights group, these laws caused the “arbitrary arrest and torture” of many Egyptian citizens at the hands of state security officials. Amnesty says the laws should now be scrapped as part of the dismantling of the former state’s apparatus. The country’s ruling military council has promised the laws will go before parliamentary elections are held in September.

Whilst ordinary Egyptians continue to marvel at the changes taking place around them, some are also worrying about the state of the country, in particular the tourist industry, one of the mainstays of the economy. Tourists have yet to return to Egypt in any kind of numbers and many hotels and shops in traditionally busy tourist hotspots are almost empty. The BBC’s Ibrat Jumaboyev visited Sharm el-Sheikh to find Egyptian’s there desperately plying their trades to the few foreigners around. Youth unemployment is running at 25 per cent in Egypt and the fall in tourists is reducing the number of available jobs still further.

A new report by Egypt’s Central Auditing Organization (CAO) warns of a rise in the number of Egyptians falling into poverty due to the recession and the flagging state of the tourism and construction industries following the unrest. Many of the poor are also being hit by a drop in remittances sent home from family members who had been working in Libya and are now returning home to escape the fighting. According to the CAO, a fifth of Egypt’s 80 million people were living in poverty in 2009-2010, with around 12 million crowded into over 1,000 slums and others living in villages with no access to sanitation. Unless employment prospects improve as the country stabilizes, the next set of figures published are likely to look even worse.

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