Old issues for new rulers


Hichem Karoui 

The Gulf Today, January 28, 2012

When one consults the most recent researches preceding the revolution, one would find a prevailing opinion saying that Egypt confronts simultaneously the challenges of economic and political structural adjustment in this century. While it is true that no study, as far as I know, has predicted the revolution, some findings are all the same still interesting to remember and understand.

What some researchers called “process of political adjustment” — implicitly emphasising the value of political participation — has probably been quite metamorphosed by the biggest event in Egyptian modern history, since Nasser and the Free Officers came to power (Suez nationalisation excluded), which is: January civil democratic revolution. As the political process engendered by this event is still in the making, considering the magnitude of change expected to touch on every aspect of the Egyptian society, we will not comment on the unknown.

However, there is an aspect that needs to be brought into the light, which is the fact that any political change (or adjustment) would have no substance or effect if we do not found it on the economic realities. Now, on this level, let’s admit that any new government issued from the recent elections, whatever its credentials or ideological inclinations, will have to deal with the same reality that the former government (prior to the revolution, that is) would have dealt with.

Even with a worse reality, considering that the Islamists propelled to the forestage in the last elections, might not be exactly the kind of reassuring asset for the touristic sector, for example. Of course, this sector is not the whole economy. Yet, it is not clear how the new government is going to deal with the need of economic adjustment that has been identified in recent researches on Egypt.

I heard the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood saying in an interview on Al Jazeera that if all or some of the Egyptian funds that have been embezzled by the corrupt elite are allowed to return to the country (from abroad), we won’t need to borrow!

Well, this is the kind of beautiful and hollow blah-blah, based on half-truths, half-lies. I don’t mean that those funds are not important. They are indeed, and the people of Egypt should, by all means, try to recuperate them. However, to pretend that this alone would free Egypt from borrowing is just naive. The biggest industrial societies are also the biggest borrowers. Egypt is not outside the world capitalist system.

The point is the challenge Egypt faces today on this level is almost the same that it faced in the last days of Mubarak’s regime.

Nevertheless, let us not cut off politics from economy. It doesn’t make sense to do so, even without a revolution on the hands.

The first aspect of the polity requiring adjustment, in order to reach good governance, is that a considerable amount of new political infrastructure should be built, for the present one represents the vestiges of the 1960s socialist era.

Recent researches have pointed out to the components of this outdated infrastructure, including: 1- Constitutional/legal framework within which politics is conducted; 2- Political and governmental organisations and institutions; 3- Information dissemination and opinion formation systems that surround the political process.

For the first point, the real work has not yet started. The announcement that the emergency Law was to be abolished is a good step forward. But it is not everything. Some of the worse effects on Egypt’s political life were due to the imbalance between the executive and the legislative branches. This has to be constitutionally fixed.

For the second point, the revolution would have to build its own institutions and organisations with, however, a different objective. To keep an optimistic faith in the capacity of the revolution in implementing its own choices, one should exclude the transformation of the current Islamist majority into a new “ruling party” devoted to controlling the civil society and the bureaucracy as well. Most of all, the “new rulers” should consider that the best economic and political asset of Egypt is its modern culture, which has served as a model for the entire Arab region. Disturb that model, and Egypt will go bankrupt. Leave it alone, even if you don’t like it, and the country would survive.

The third point does not need to be overemphasised. Its importance is the same as democracy itself. Assumedly, we should not expect to see the state-owned media (for example) being controlled by an all-mighty ministry of information. Such a department should not exist at all. Nor does it make sense to abolish this ministry just to give its prerogatives to the interior ministry. Once this point is clear for everybody, the new system should softly settle down as simple management, not thought-control institutions or a religious police.

The second aspect of the polity that needs to be cared about are concerns creating a dynamic, outward-oriented economy. Here, the problem is obviously the highly centralised nature of the state itself. How to downsize it, with the objective of rendering it more efficient, without imposing too much hardship?

The human factor is Egypt’s first asset. The new rulers — notwithstanding their ideology — should understand that they would not be able to run Egypt, and much less succeed in the political and economic adjustments required, without creating a consensus. However, no consensus would be reached without respect to the fundamental rights that the revolution sought to make obviously respected.

We live in a complicated world, where the old slogans like “religion is the solution” would not work to providing people with their basic needs, let alone welfare, without internal and external compromises. Make the liberals, the Nasserites, the leftists… your enemies, instead of your political rivals, and your success, as a new majority, is already compromised. Make the West your foe, and you put your country on the same path as Iran.
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