CAIRO – An Egyptian government minister warned on Sunday that investors are growing concerned about Egypt's stability over fears the revolt in Tunisia could spur unrest elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.
The stunning protests in Tunisia, which brought down that country's leader after 23 years of repressive rule, have reverberated around the region, particularly in Egypt, where many activists are similarly angry with their longtime president.
In a first test of whether the events could spark serious street protests in Egypt, activists and opposition groups are organizing a day of demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria on Tuesday to coincide with a holiday honoring Egypt's feared police and security apparatus.
It has been dubbed "the day of the revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment."
Wary of the possible ramifications of street unrest, Minister of Industry and Commerce Rachid Mohammed Rachid told reporters that the situation in Egypt is different than in Tunisia.
"Factors are not exactly the same in every country," Rachid said. He added, however, that the situation in Tunisia "worries lots of people" and "raises questions about political stability."
Rachid said he instructed assistants to issue daily statements about new foreign investment to send a reassuring message.
Last week, Egypt's stock market dropped 8 percent. Several Egyptians set themselves on fire in apparent attempts to copy the young Tunisian vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation helped inspire the protests that forced Tunisia's authoritarian president to flee the country.
Economic woes helped fuel the protests in Tunisia and are a sensitive issue in Egypt as well.
Egypt's economy had been growing by an annual average of 7 percent for three years before the global financial meltdown in 2008, and officials expect growth of 6 percent in the fiscal year ending in June. But the benefits have not trickled down to the masses of impoverished Egyptians.
Some 40 percent of the Arab world's most populous country's population lives on or near poverty line of $2 a day. Poor quality education, health care and unemployment have left large numbers of Egyptians deprived of basic needs.
President Hosni Mubarak said in a televised speech Sunday that providing jobs, boosting investment and making economic reforms are the "cornerstone to achieve social justice."
Mubarak, in power since 1981, has not announced yet whether he intends to contest the presidential election at the end of this year, leaving open Egypt's most intriguing question of who could succeed the president. He is widely believed to be grooming his son Gamal for the role, something many Egyptians oppose.
Unrest on the scale of Tunisia appears far less likely in Egypt, where a vast network of security forces is heavily vested in the status quo and has shown no signs of breaking ranks to join protesters in the past.
Emergency laws in place since 1981 outlaw demonstrations. Authorities are quick to crack down, and overwhelming numbers of security personnel far outnumber protesters at those demonstrations that do take place.
A security official told the al-Masry al-Youm daily newspaper that authorities will not tolerate illegal gatherings on Tuesday.
The call for protests spread mainly through Facebook and received positive responses from some 80,000 Egyptians.
The organizers also spread flyers and posters calling for Egyptians to shed their apathy and participate on Tuesday.
"Because I am Egypt, I will go out and say NO," one flyer read. "One goal, one nation, participate in the change," a second read.
Young activists also produced video clips and songs calling on people to rebel against the president and his rule.
The country's biggest opposition group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said its young members will participate. It also said several senior members of the group's leaders have been subjected to police intimidation ahead of the protest.
"We reject such terrorist threats," said a statement on its website. "We will always be in the middle of the people ... until the moment of freedom comes."