Social Protest and Subsidy Removal in Egypt: Future Scenarios

In July 2014, the Egyptian government announced reductions in the governmental subsidies on fuel as a first step in a framework to end the state subsidy system. The reform puts Egypt at a crossroads economically, politically and socially. Now is the time to set the foundations for a new social contract. The state needs community structures, such as trade unions, that can manage social conflict. At the same time, affected social sectors need ways in which to express their anger and represent their interests in a sustained and focussed manner in order to successfully pressure the authorities.

In this paper, Nadine Abdalla puts forward two main non-mutually exclusive scenarios for how public anger towards the subsidy reduction will be expressed in the medium and long term.

On the one hand, persons and social sectors affected by the subsidy reduction will resort to strategies focussed on sustainable, longer terms efforts expressed through coalitions and unions with the ultimate goal to exert pressure on the state to draw up a new social contract.

On the other hand, the lack of channels of communications and intermediate structures between the state and those affected will lead to the eruption of random social uprisings similar to the social explosion under the rule of Sadat in 1977 and more sectoral and sporadic protests as seen in recent years. The continuance of these protests and uprisings will force the regime to halt further austerity measures, at least for the time being.

Therefore, the state needs ways to facilitate the management of social conflict in an organized way through social organization and the formation of unions. At the same level, in order to have an impact on policy, community structures need to engage in coalitions and unions that are better organized and capable of exerting influence.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.