ECONOMY

Economy plunged in uncertainty

There is no longer any doubt that people are feeling the pressure of the havoc wreaked on the USA by the Islamic fundamentalist perpetrators and the ensuing, long-term counterterrorism campaign. Initial fears that the terrible events of September 11 would mark people’s lives are unfortunately being confirmed on a daily basis – empty flights from New York to London, a 100-percent increase in sales of teleconferencing systems in the USA, heavier traffic in American and European cities as people avoid public transport, a growing frequency of absences from work, more and more people working from home and mass hysteria over potential chemical and biological warfare, following the cases of anthrax disease discovered in Florida and New York. Consumers have recently been displaying self-restraint; investors are tending more toward short-term than mid-term buying, obviously because of the uncertainty. Most people feel safer knowing that they have easier access to cash. The phenomenon has already been observed in Athens. Although statistics are late in being released in Greece, the general impression is one of a slump in economic activity. September was a very quiet month on the islands, most conferences were canceled and consumption restricted. In banks, there have been shorter queues and fewer requests for loans. Senior bank officials are expecting increased provisions for bad debts and have seen fluidity rise as a result of a turn away from mid-term deposits. Those who have been closely observing economic developments are feeling the pressure resulting from the terrorist attacks and the ensuing sense of uncertainty. And prospects are still uncertain. No one dares make any predictions. The recovery on the stock markets the previous week created the impression that the situation was under control, a feeling that was dashed on Friday when the news broke of the anthrax cases. Bank of Greece governor Lucas Papademos said no one could tell the future with any certainty. Nor is there any foundation for the latest forecasts of a recovery in the middle of next year, or at the latest, early in the second half of next year, as they depend on the absence of another terrorist strike or the destabilization of secular states in the Muslim world. Outbursts of anti-American feeling in Malaysia and Bangladesh, pressure on the regime of General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, demonstrations in Iran, Iraq and Jordan, continuing incidents in Israeli-occupied Arab areas, an undercurrent of opposition to the regime in Saudi Arabia, the smoldering cauldron of the Muslim renaissance in Egypt, the continuing crisis in Algeria and the Muslim fundamentalism that emerged last Friday in the mosques of Istanbul and Konya in Turkey, are all ingredients for an incipient crisis that could easily get out of hand if the counterterrorism campaign spreads beyond Afghanistan to other countries. US President George Bush might well declare that terrorism is not going to lock our country down, yet it is certain that for the time being at least, people will be locking themselves in, restricting their movements out of fear, insecurity and the restrictive security measures being taken everywhere. For some time, people will be reserved, suspicious and conservative about taking initiatives in the economic and social sectors, with all that that entails. Everyone hopes for a speedy end to the crisis. But it appears the forces of fanaticism have given in to lunacy and no one knows where it will all end.