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Is building a new capital for Egypt a top priority?

Do we have the luxury of spending more than $45 billion on a new city?

Maasoum Marzouk , Tuesday 21 Apr 2015
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Views: 2697

The whole world saw the Egyptian prime minister sobbing when reading his speech at the conclusion of the Egypt Economic Development Conference held lately in Sharm El-Sheikh. It was a moving scene on a human level. The same goes for the "selfie" moment when a group of youth crowded around the president, full of human warmth and spontaneous emotion that incited laughter and applause.

Between Mahlab's tears and gathering around El-Sisi, the scene seemed as if it were shot in an old romantic black and white film: tears, smiles and a happy ending, as if for a moment we were not witnessing the conclusion to an economic conference, but rather the conclusion of a "One Hundred Years of Cinema" festival.

Well, let's put aside congratulating ourselves and being proud of good organisation. A huge number of people have already talked and sung about the cup that is half-full with hundreds of billions of dollars. I hope that hearts can be open for he who wants to discuss the part that is half empty. Away from torturing ourselves or scaring others or hurling dirt, it is the duty of every reasonable person.

The Prophet Abraham said to God: "My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead." It was said to him: "Have you not believed?" He replied: "Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be satisfied." I have wished — and still wish — to swallow all I have seen and heard until now. Perhaps there is something that was not declared and bore great benefit, or God forbid additional disasters. Does constructing a new capital for Egypt occupy a top priority in addressing our economic problems? During the last decades, a number of what we can call "small capitals" were built, such as Sadat City, 10th of Ramadan, Madinaty (My City), El-Tagammu El-Khames (The Fifth Settlement), 6th of October, etc. Billions of dollars were even poured in the form of concrete jungles in North Coast cities that weren't used except for a few months during the entire year. As a point of fact, I am not convinced that we have, for the time being, the luxury of spending more than $45 billion on new cities.

How easy and sweet to make people live with illusions. But this crime in which the same elites have participated before, and of whom most came out to promote illusions once again, is spreading without any of them wondering whether these billions will be nothing but another tranche of debt that will accumulate on the shoulders of upcoming generations while it seeps into the sands (like Toshka), or into the pockets of some lucky ones, as is usual.

Yes, it is a good thing and an old dream that we have a new capital in order that we get rid of the pains of our old capital and have a city that we are proud of. However, should we pour $45 billion into additional concrete jungles, or should we push it into the arteries of micro, small and medium sized projects (the prescription of Brazilian President Lula da Silva who eradicated poverty in his country during two presidential terms). We could also feed by it structural reform in all levels of education during the next 10 years (the Asian Tigers experience). Are we in dire need to build skyscrapers challenging those of Dubai and other Gulf cities, or are we in need of decent dwellings to accommodate almost 12 million Egyptian citizen living in slums, housing shelters and cemeteries?

Regarding contracts struck at the conference, what has transpired until now confirms that we are standing in front of one of the applications of the Chicago School in economics, which was embraced by Ahmed Nazif's government and his inheritor's clique. It is also similar to the bible of the International Monetary Fund (whose managing director, Mrs Lagarde, attended and was in a state utter happiness and joy).

Since Al-Ahram has published a previous essay of mine entitled "International Trojan Fund" (in December 2013), I'll just point out that the Chicago School focuses on the idea that the state hinders the economy and the only permissible state interference is using its oppressive capabilities against those who oppose market freedom. The state is not permitted to own or practice any economic activity, and is prohibited from intervening in any way in price determining or subsidising commodities or using protectionist means for its local products. Thus, the most prominent recommendation of this school is, "in order to save your country from its economic crisis, you have to sell it."

Analysts agree that in order for the Chicago School's economic prescription be a success it initially needs at least the expansion of oppression of the opposition, to facilitate swallowing a bitter pill. This school's priests claim that the suffering of the poor will increase only in the first phase of application, which they estimate to be between five to 10 years. After this, the invisible hand of the market will play its role in raising standards of living across the board.

As I have mentioned, all members of the Mubarak regime's economic team were the guardians of this school. They attempted, indeed, to solve the Egyptian economy's crises through selling Egypt by way of privatisation (although they dared not come near subsidies). Despite the fact that programme application was underway for more than 30 years (or since the beginning of the Open Door era), the majority of the Egyptian people did not feel a significant improvement in their living conditions. The result was that corruption increased in every form and the gap widened between classes, against the backdrop of oppressive practices that led, in the end, to the explosion in January 2011.

I concluded my aforementioned essay with a warning: "For those who were breastfed on theories like that of the Chicago School and were not weaned off it yet, they should realise that this was the road of regret, and the Egyptian people will not kneel before any new oppressive means — especially that applying those brutal ideas will not come to pass except with oppression. The road to safety is a good government that takes into account achieving social justice through rational measures aiming at redistributing wealth and participation in fair burden-sharing."

Before God I have conveyed my message, pray God be my witness.

 

The writer is former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister.

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