Orian 21: Official data and statistics in Egypt do not reflect the reality of the situation

Official social and economic data in Egypt does not reflect a reliable picture of the reality of life in the country, but rather contains many flaws. However, it is often adopted without any critical insight by external actors.

Thus began the topic published by the French magazine “Orian 21”, an electronic magazine concerned with politics, culture, society, economics and diplomacy in the Arab and Islamic world.

The magazine begins by giving an example related to the Corona virus, saying that Egypt succeeded very well in facing the “Covid-19” pandemic, this is confirmed at least by official figures, as the country recorded less than 360,000 cases until early December 2021, and that makes it In excellent condition by international standards, and if the situation is measured in terms of per capita infection per population, the epidemic has resulted in only a small proportion of casualties compared to the numbers recorded by the United States or European countries.

The problem here, as the French magazine says, is that everything suggests that these numbers provided by the Egyptian authorities are false, not only because several witnesses indicated that “Covid-19” injuries are not recorded correctly, and that the causes of death are often reported. It is wrong, but also because the first investigations into the high number of deaths showed that the number of deaths caused by “Covid-19” may be 13 times greater than that announced by the authorities.

Unemployment figures

In this regard, a closer examination of other government statistics must be done, as the matter includes many official social and economic data that are difficult to reconcile with reality. This becomes clear when examining the unemployment figures, as the unemployment rate in Egypt is 10.45 percent in 2020, which is low by regional standards, and is even lower than the unemployment rates in industrialized countries such as Spain and Italy.

The problem with these official figures is that they are based on a very low participation rate, as it seems that a large number of Egyptians do not register themselves as unemployed, especially because they have little hope of finding a job in the official labor market. Therefore, the official figure does not in any way reflect the real unemployment in the country, which may amount to more than double, according to labor market experts.

Reducing the numbers of poverty rates

The official poverty rate of 29.7% is likely to be decorated as well. The report of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development related to the implementation of the sustainable development strategy stated that the poverty rate “reduced in 2020 for the first time in 20 years”, which is a misleading assertion for two reasons: the first is that the data collection period is not 2020 but 2019, and the difference is important because the social and economic status of the population It has mainly deteriorated due to the onset of the Corona pandemic. The second is that, according to the World Bank, current figures cannot be compared with those of previous years, because the definition of the poverty threshold is redefined with each investigation.

Contradictions also appear when examining the Egyptian state budget statistics. It is true that budget documents are generally available to the public, but the information provided is often incomplete, and not all income and expenditures are included in the list, according to what the Orian 21 website confirms.

The same applies to public debt, as the US State Department’s 2021 Tax Transparency Report notes that state-owned corporate debt does not appear. As for Egypt’s external debts, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights recently confirmed that the numbers presented on it are neither fixed nor consistent. By building contingent liabilities in particular, the government can get a good tool to hide the true level of the country’s debt, and no detailed information about this type of public guarantee is published.

In an international comparison, according to the latest Open Data Inventory, ODIN, Egypt is not distinguished by the availability of its data, ranking 153 in this field out of 187 countries, and Cairo seems to need a law on freedom of information to achieve greater transparency. But the effect of such a law will remain a matter of debate when previous falsification of the numbers occurs, as it is difficult to prove tampering with data collection and statistical production. Studies show that dictatorships manipulate the numbers in calculating GDP, for example.

The real figure in authoritarian countries may be one-third less than the amount reported in official statistics.

The former head of the Accountability Authority, Hisham Geneina, was assaulted by unknown persons and then imprisoned after declaring that the extent of corruption in Egypt is in the billions (Al-Jazeera)

State agencies under the influence

There are no studies so far regarding Egypt’s GDP, but there is a clear discrepancy between official discourse and reality. The government repeatedly refers to the private sector as the “engine of economic growth”, while the independently compiled PMI shows that economic activities in the non-oil private sector have been in steady decline for years.

Therefore, by far the most important problem is not the availability and accessibility of statistics, but rather the lack of autonomy in data collection and production of statistics. In Egypt, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS for short in English) generally undertakes the collection of this data. Despite repeated assertions of its professional independence, this apparatus appears to lack impartiality and objectivity, due to its complex overlap with the Egyptian security apparatus, as its chief, like all his predecessors, hails from the army.

A recent incident revealed a clash between honest agencies and the Presidency of the Republic, as state officials tried to prevent the publication of the poverty investigation for the year 2017-2018, which confirms that the national poverty rate has risen to more than 32%.

The same situation applies to the Central Auditing Organization (CAO), which does not produce statistics, but verifies the general budget figures, and then the production of data by the Ministry of Finance, in addition to the fact that the agency itself does not work in a completely transparent manner, it also does not It operates independently of the president and the army.

This is clearly demonstrated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s appointment of a new president in 2016, after the former head of the Central Auditing Organization – who publicly criticized corruption in Egypt – was sentenced to 5 years in prison, and that was in 2018 in a politically motivated trial. His successor to this position is a judge in the notorious State Security Prosecutor’s Office, which Amnesty International has described as a central “repressive instrument”.

The lack of any independence in statistical production and monitoring in authoritarian regimes is not surprising. Research has shown for years that there is a relationship between political institutions on the one hand, and the ease of access to them and the quality of economic variables on the other. This is especially true in a country like Egypt, where the military controls a large part of the economy, and there is no interest for political leaders under President Sisi to publish objective statements.

IMF complicity

However, international actors persist in ignoring the findings of this research, and the International Monetary Fund bears a special responsibility in this regard, as it has closely accompanied Egyptian economic and social policies in many programs since 2016. It is no coincidence that official Egyptian statistics were included in a non-cash form in Fund Country Reports.

The real problem is that by adopting government statistics without criticism, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organization or other international organizations are “whitening” these data, and these statistics are no longer seen as Egyptian, but rather as figures issued by international organizations. Donor countries and international investors – as well as academics and think tanks – should take this into account. Accordingly, it is not possible to conduct a realistic assessment of the situation in Egypt except through field research. Because Egyptian leaders are well aware of this, they are deliberately making it difficult for academics and journalists to gain access to the field.

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