CAIRO: With the spirit of Egyptian citizens reeling after bombings, political turbulence, forced refugee removal, cartoon chaos and ferry disasters, the recent 11th hour African Cup win lent a much-needed boost to the tapering spirits of the traditionally patriotic Egyptian. Then this weekend, it rained on Egypt’s parade, both literally and figuratively. News of the first cases of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain has already stung Egypt’s top performing stock market. Economists are now predicting the outbreak could result in losses of up to LE 2 billion. “There is tension and fear, explains Magdy Sobhi, an economist with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “This will definitely affect the Cairo Alexandria Stock Exchange (CASE) and the companies that are in some way tied to food and health. This will certainly have a major affect on the business environment. Four cases in Cairo, two in the Giza governorate and one in Minya were confirmed Friday by officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nation s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Until now, no human cases have been confirmed, though one case was reportedly denied by the government. Has the Egyptian government been affective in winning the confidence and allegiance of its citizens? In recent months, criticism has grown fierce over the Ministry of Interior’s failure to intervene in situations ranging from domestic terrorism, to protest violence and, recently, emergency search and rescue for victims of the sunken Al-Salam Bocaccio 98. Concerned over the strong possibility of an outbreak in Egypt, the FAO last October warned that Egypt could be the pathway for avian influenza to make its way from Asia to the African continent. Precautions were taken, with the Egyptian government banning poultry imports and bird hunting in early October.
President Hosni Mubarak, concerned over the repercussions with both the politics and economics of an outbreak, created a national committee comprised of a number of government bodies. This includes the Ministry of Defense, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and Health, plus representatives of the WHO. “There isn’t high credibility of the government lately, explains Sobhi. “I mean, sure, if they hold a massive banquet and bring a group of artists and performers and they all eat chicken on the television so everyone can see, maybe it will ease any skepticism.
While Egypt is the only country to have revealed the discovery of the virus before the WHO, skeptics are questioning whether news of the outbreak may have been withheld for as long as a week to maintain Egypt’s media limelight following the African Cup. The government’s emergency response has come into question with Egyptians, particularly following the Al-Salam disaster that left some 1,000 people dead. Experts believe the government’s reaction to the bird flu outbreak and its ability to contain the virus can make or break its image.
“The economy of Egypt will be able to tolerate this so long as the response to the situation is fast and they ease the nerves of the people, Sobhi says.