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Egypt: Moving forward five years after the revolution

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin , Wednesday 3 Feb 2016
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The fifth anniversary of the revolution should have seen an Egypt where the roadmap was completed with the election of a new parliament, the country was on the road to security and stability, and the people had begun to reap the fruits of economic development.

Such were the hopes at the beginning of 2015. Instead, the prevailing mood in Egypt is one of fear, anxiety, and doubts about the current political and economic course.

The growing unease and protest is coming not only from opposition and youth quarters, but from the ranks of state allies, who are increasingly vocal about mismanagement, especially economic.

Shop owners complain of volatile currency prices, while manufacturers suffer from bureaucracy and high production costs and civil servants are suspicious of government intentions following the ruckus over the civil service law.

Youth looking for work see no policies to end unemployment, those working in tourism are sitting at home waiting for some release, and businessmen gripe about the lack of economic vision and the state’s reliance on fines to cover the deficit. The poor, meanwhile, have no refuge from skyrocketing prices and the deterioration of public services.

This is dangerous: it’s normal for every regime to have supporters and detractors, but such universal apprehension is different and portends grave consequences.

After all the heavy sacrifices of the revolution’s martyrs, after the losses sustained by army and police personnel in the battle against terrorism, and despite the public’s patience with the difficulties of daily life, the fifth anniversary of the revolution comes in a climate of unease and a general sense that we’re again on the cusp of change.

I don’t mean a third revolution with crowds in the streets or a change in government. Most Egyptians are exhausted by the hardship of the past five years, and I don’t think they’re willing to take new risks. They just want the state to gain a foothold, its leaders to succeed, and the economy to stabilise.

But this doesn’t mean they are satisfied with the status quo. The failures of the past year, particularly on the economic front, have shaken people’s confidence, undercutting their optimism and willingness to sacrifice. Altering this mindset requires the state to radically change course.

But this isn’t about replacing a few ministers and governors or cutting prices and distributing housing. It requires a new roadmap that rehabilitates the constitution and law, regulates the performance of warring state agencies, offers a clear economic vision for the future, forges a new social consensus, and brings calm to the streets. Otherwise, the anxiety will persist.

To be more specific, I propose a serious dialogue between state and society—political parties, trade unions, business associations, civic groups, and the media—on the following issues:

1. An economic reform program that goes beyond declaring targets for growth and inflation to forge a consensus on public spending priorities, how to generate investment, cut unemployment, provide social protection for those who need it, and improve existing public services and utilities before embarking on more megaprojects. This also requires a reconsideration of the army’s role in managing the economy, in order to preserve its status and relieve it of involvement in fields unrelated to its sacred mission of defending the safety and security and the nation and citizenry.

2. Holding to the spirit and letter of the constitution and restoring the independence and stature of the judiciary. The state must abide by the law and stop intervening in matters of justice, and repeal laws restricting freedom and the political and civic activity. The police apparatus must be developed to improve its competence and effectiveness within a framework of respect for the constitution, law, and citizens’ rights.

3. Ending the political exclusion of all parties that renounce violence and accept political action in the framework of the constitution and law. This is especially needed for youth who are shut out and hobbled by laws restricting freedom, Islamists who are not involved in violence and don’t support or foment it, as well as those associated with the Mubarak regime with no proven criminal record of corruption, murder, or torture who are still threatened by cases pending for years now.

4. Lifting restrictions on civic associations, parties, unions, and civil society organizations in the framework of a new law that recognizes national security concerns without quashing civic activity that helps develop resources, reduce poverty, opens important channels of negotiation within society, and assumes the responsibility of protecting civil rights and monitoring state conduct.

5. A national anti-corruption program targeting more than the arrest a few officials or a high-profile case. A serious program would entail new laws to combat corruption and conflicts of interest and ensure access to information, while developing the skills and capacities of oversight agencies to deal with modern financial crimes. Corruption must not be a weapon wielded to settle political accounts.

6. A media ethics charter or law that would check the professional and moral slide of the media, along with the media monopoly of a handful of businessmen and state interference to mold public opinion. The law would not restrict freedom of opinion and expression or use the current situation as a pretext to further gag dissident voices. It would instead create a climate for creativity, criticism, and dialogue far removed from the incitement and exclusion that has led to a divided society rife with hate speech.

None of these issues can be resolved with parliamentary legislation or by government or presidential fiat. They must be tackled through a real social debate. The debate might take time and it might be contentious. It will require sacrifices and concessions from all sides. But it’s worth the effort because it’s the only exit from the current path we’re on, which will bring neither stability nor development.

After five years of sacrifice and hardship borne by all, after mistakes made by all parties, it’s time to turn the page and start a new chapter of reform and positive change. Will this appeal find a response from the state and the political and social forces striving after the national interest?

The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investment.

This article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Monday, 1 February.
 

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