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Can Egypt's presidential candidates transform economic fortunes?

From Reza Sayah, CNN
updated 11:59 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
Supporters of Egyptian leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi (portrait) attend a campaign meeting in Cairo.
Supporters of Egyptian leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi (portrait) attend a campaign meeting in Cairo.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Egyptians will go to the polls on May 26 and 27 to elect a new president
  • Adel Fattah el Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi are the only candidates
  • Reviving a crumblng economy will be among the key tasks of the vote winner

Watch Marketplace Middle East every week on CNN International. Click here for the show times. For full coverage of the Egyptian election in Arabic, visit CNN Arabic.

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Since the 2011 revolution, Egyptians have seen near non-stop protests, the toppling of two presidents, six elections, and a seemingly endless political crisis.

But what they haven't witnessed yet is what has been demanded all along -- a better economy.

As the country goes to the polls next week to elect a new president, both candidates insist this is something they can be trusted to deliver.

Former army chief Abdel Fattah el Sisi pledges new roads, housing, airports, jobs and an end to the energy crisis.

Sisi's lone opponent, left leaning politician Hamdeen Sabahi, has vowed to dish out millions of dollars in investments to help reopen government factories, create new jobs, build new housing and improve health care.

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These are lofty promises. But has either candidate offered specifics on how they will get things done?

"Not yet," said Cairo based economist, Angus Blair. "We've still got a few weeks before elections but the pressure is growing on both of them to come up with plans and that includes Sisi."

Blair believes that in order to deliver on campaign promises, Egypt's next president must attract investors from both inside and outside Egypt through large scale economic reform.

"It's not going to be easy," he added. "The problems are surmountable but I have to say the structural problems of Egypt's economy are enormous."

These problems include rising food prices, unemployment at roughly 14% and a crippling budget deficit of around 12% of GDP.

On top of all that, passions are still running high over the ousting and trial of former president Mohamed Morsy who was removed from his post by the army in 2013.

A critical step to recovery, many business-minded economists say, is cutting costly food and fuel subsidies that eat up roughly one third of Egypt's budget.

But for the country's poor, cutting subsidies will be an extremely tough pill to swallow.

To ease the impact, Blair says Egypt's next leader must launch projects to help the masses -- like improving transport and affordable housing -- that can be kick-started by billions of aid received from Gulf Arab states.

"If the right policies are in place, Egypt will respond quickly," Blair said.

"But changing sentiment is the key by putting right policies and right people in place to show something is changing."

Only then, he concludes, can Egypt's next president truly improve the economy and meet the demands of millions of Egyptians still waiting for a better life three years after revolution came to the country.

See also: Cairo's nightlife comes back to life

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