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If there was a logic to the emotional and practical calculus that kept
dissent at bay during the first two years of Sisi’s presidency, it was
widely thought that the events of November 2016 might undermine his rule.
As a result of severely dwindling currency reserves, the government was
forced to implement a series of long-overdue austerity measures to secure a
$12 billion loan from the IMF. The risks of implementing the loan program
were described by the agency’s staff as “significant.” Morsi had considered
these same measures but backed out after a public outcry. Sisi had little
choice but to take the risk. First gas and fuel subsidies were suddenly
lifted (causing price hikes of 50 percent), then the Egyptian pound was
floated, plunging the currency from seven to twenty pounds against the
dollar. Overnight, the price of milk, tomatoes, pasta, cigarettes, soap,
water, sugar, oil, chicken, chocolate, bread, juice, toilet paper, matches,
bananas, plumbing services, and household goods leapt.

I heard people complain that their businesses lost half their value; a
cargo expediter said everyone was affected by the crisis except the one
percent. A friend with a medium-sized business importing knickknacks from
China said he was thrust into sudden debt. Many months later, when summer
approached, I asked him what he now thought of the austerity measures,
which had already driven up foreign direct investment. He replied: “Don’t
talk to me about politics. The only thing I can talk about is making enough
of a living to put my kids through school and pay for the bills, which I
barely can. They want to make it impossible for us to be political.”

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