Egypt: One Year On

For Egypt’s young people, jobs are few

Stephen Beard Feb 3, 2012

Tess Vigeland: We’re staying on the subject of jobs, now, but we’re switching our focus to Egypt. The Egyptian government says the unemployment rate there is around 12 percent. But many Egyptians say the real figure is much higher.

On the first anniversary of the revolution that drove President Hosni Mubarak from power, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard is reporting a special series on post-revolutionary Egypt. It’s called “One Year On.” Today, he looks at the plight of young Egyptians, 18-to-24 years old, facing an estimated unemployment rate of 80 percent.

Chanting in Tahrir Square

Stephen Beard: Tahrir Square is the epicenter of the revolution — but it’s also a kind of giant, open-air unemployment office. Thousands of the young people that gather here are out of work. And one year after the overthrow of President Mubarak, they’re still protesting about the lack of jobs.

Man speaking in Arabic

Twenty-four-year-old Mohammed El Hakim finished his degree in mechanical engineering 18 months ago. He still can’t find a job. He says the Army-controlled government hasn’t done anything to help. The revolution has changed nothing. And he feels as if his degree is worthless and his education a waste of time.

Being unemployed here isn’t easy. You get no financial help at all from the government.

Street vendor hawking

A street vendor weaves his way through the square. There are dozens of these hawkers here selling cheap food and drink to the protesters. That does at least make Tahrir an inexpensive place for the unemployed to spend the day. Cairo resident Eyad Dawoud:

Eyad Dawoud: When you are in Tahrir you eat Tahrir food. You drink the Tahrir drinks, which is a cup of tea for one pound or kebdah sandwiches for two pounds. All these in Tahrir Square and they’re all cheap.

That’s a cup of tea and a sandwich for less than 50 U.S. cents. Dawoud himself lost his job and was out of work for a year. And he says, he suffered the humiliation of having to go home and sponge off his parents.

Dawoud: Doesn’t feel any good when you start taking allowance from your mother again. And like, “Can I have 20 pounds today so I can just go and do something?” “Why do you need this 20 pounds?” And you start having all these flashbacks of scenes that used to happen 10 or 12 years ago and you thought it was over.

Dawoud is one of the lucky ones. His well-heeled parents were able to support him while he was looking for a job and protesting.

Economist Ahmed Ghoneim says most of the unemployed have to eke out a living doing odd menial jobs in the black economy.

Ahmed Ghoneim: The black market economy, the underground economy has acted as the social safety net for those people to survive.

Parking and washing cars or street vending, hundreds of thousands of young unemployed — and often educated — people are struggling to make ends meet. Hadir Hassan says her cousin has a business degree and he’s driving a rickshaw.

Hadir Hassan: The educated and the uneducated both drive rickshaws, because there are no opportunities for work. And there are educated people who work in coffee shops.

Hadir herself has not found a job since she graduated from high school last summer. She’s worried that she’s becoming a burden on her father, a cab driver. His meager income is the family’s sole means of support. Hadir cannot turn to the government for help.

Hassan: The government doesn’t give me welfare; the government doesn’t give anyone welfare. All the people in this country have to fend for themselves.

Chanting in Tahrir Square

Hadir is not one of the protesters in Tahrir Square. She seems to take a rather jaundiced view of the revolution. She doesn’t believe it will bring her a job.

In Cairo, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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