Economic development hand-in-hand with freedom and human rights

Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar
Monday 9 Mar 2015

There is no contradiction between freedoms, dignity and human rights on the one hand, and comprehensive economic development on the other, while the strongest states are inclusive and participatory

There is no difference if the choices are coming from those in power or from some theoreticians, or under the weight and challenges of political and security turbulence or terrorism and the advisory opinions emanating from this situation.

Some resort to recalling the worst dictatorships that achieved economic development in their countries as an excuse to turn a blind eye on respecting freedoms and human rights for the sake of winning economic development, to reproduce a similar example in spite of differences in international circumstances.

In this context, they present examples such as Indonesia during the rule of Suharto, Chile under the control of the fascist butcher Augusto Pinochet, and South Korea under the command of the generals, which have achieved real development rates amounting to 9.6 percent annually from 1965 until 1980. This rate rose to 9.9 percent yearly from 1980 until 1988, according to World Bank data.

They also cite Eastern European countries and the former Soviet Union that achieved development rates ranging between eight percent and 10 percent annually after World War II until the beginning of the 1960s. China is added as a one-party state that achieved swift and comprehensive development absent westernised democracy, where the average real development rate of gross domestic product (GDP) was about 6.4 percent annually from 1965 until 1980 and around 10 percent on average during the period from 1980 until 2012.

I will add Germany in the Nazi era, where Adolf Hitler's regime was able to tackle economic depression, soaring inflation and accomplished economic achievements upon which he built his gigantic military machine and financed his criminal wars against east and west Europe, before the former Soviet Union and the Allies were able to vanquish him and occupy Germany amid devastation in Europe and the death of nearly 60 million people, more than a third killed by the Nazis in the former Soviet Union alone.

However, the proponents of this perspective do not mention that there are dozens of examples of dictatorial regimes among the underdeveloped and developing countries that did not produce anything but economic failure and social injustice and turned their countries into hotbeds of poverty, unemployment, ignorance, inequality and corruption.

The dictatorial regime during Mubarak's rule was one of these failed and bloated with corruption regimes. When the revolution led to deposing Mubarak, the value of domestic debt was about LE962 billion and external debt about $35 billion, with unemployment according to official estimates at nine percent (nearly three times bigger than this according to independent estimates). It must be put into consideration that after the revolution, Dr Ahmed Al-Borie, minister of manpower at the time, stated that the unemployment rate reached 19 percent of the total workforce.

As for the poverty rate, it reached 43.8 percent of the total population til 2008, according to World Bank data quoting official Egyptian statements. Suddenly, the rules of accounting were changed and the proportion of the poor was reduced in an illogical way to 18 percent of the total population in 2010.

Moreover, the wealth of the richest 10 percent of the Egyptian population increased at the expense of the rest of the nation until it reached 61 percent of total Egyptian wealth in 2000. It increased to 65.3 percent in 2007 and reached 70 percent in 2010. With the continuity of the unbalanced bases of income distribution, the share of this segment increased to reach 73.3 percent of the total wealth in Egypt in 2014. As for the real growth rate average in GDP during Mubarak's rule, it was four percent while the rate was more than six percent annually in average in developing countries in that period.

Despite the enormous debts in which he had driven Egypt into, where external debts reached $50 billion in 1988, Egypt got rid of a large chunk of it in light of its stance in the Gulf War of 1990/1991 and due to its commitment to apply the liberal economic reform programme set up by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However, this ideologically rigid IMF programme ensured the sabotaging of the Egyptian economy, terminating any industrialisation strategy. Through this programme, the Egyptian public sector was privatised and its best companies were squandered in sales at horrifically low prices through corrupt deals, from cement sector companies to steam boiler companies, Egyptian mobile phone services, glass and soft drinks companies, to hotels and fertilisers and chemicals companies, etc.

On the other hand, there are developing countries that are governed democratically and were able to accomplish a strong and established developmental process in spite of extremely difficult circumstances, including great external challenges. The most prominent example in this context is India with its huge population and the wars it has gone through against China and Pakistan. However, in the end it achieved dazzling economic and technological progress and strode on the path of swift development through a democratic system that respects freedoms.

Meanwhile, the official international stance before 1990 was not in fact concerned with whether states were governed by democratic or dictatorial systems. Both competing superpowers in the international arena (the United States and the West behind it, and the Soviet Unon and Eastern Europe behind it) were interested only in those supporting and those opposing them. The "democratic" West was the sponsor of the meanest dictatorial and bloody regimes, such as Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, the Shah in Iran, the apartheid system in South Africa and the military junta in Argentina in the 1970s.

Even the European states comprised a list of dictatorial symbols, such as the bloody General Franco regime in Spain, Salazar in Portugal and military rule in Greece in the 1970s. As for the Soviet East, it viewed this issue as an internal matter that concerned each state only, and consequently it was not originally interested in discussing the issue of democracy with its partners or the states close to it.

This international environment, which is characterised in practical reality by ignoring the democracy issue except in the frame of recriminations and provocations between the two superpowers, has ended and it will never return since the bipolar system collapsed with the disintegration of the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, the strong rise of civil society and the role of NGOs began to influence the international relations between the great powers and the undemocratic states in a way that exerts real pressure on national governments to hinder economic cooperation with states governed by undemocratic regimes. There is no exception in this trend save the countries that provide the West with its raw minerals and materials and oil, and the Zionist entity that enjoys official and popular collusion concerning its racism and its criminal occupation of Syrian and Palestinian lands, in addition to its initial creation in the rape of the Palestinian people's lands.

This means that the international environment is unfavourable to the idea of placing economic development above or against respecting freedoms and human rights. For a regime that respects freedoms, human rights, justice and equality among its citizens, this constitutes a helping factor in awakening local investment and attracting foreign investment and tourism.

But what is more important is that the peoples who were silent for a long time towards freedoms and human rights violations wrought under claims of confronting an external enemy or constructing the state's independence have learnt through historical experience that this was only a heinous crime of deception. Those states that curtailed freedoms and human rights under claims of confronting an external enemy did not pass on to their peoples anything except defeats, for they neither respected human rights nor achieved the hoped for victories over the enemy.

Moreover, national independence is not strong and protected except with free peoples enjoying their human dignity. Perhaps the horrible experience of Iraq's fall in the face of the imperial and criminal US invasion in 2003 is a bitter lesson for all regimes. It says that only free peoples are able to coalesce with their states in defending every inch of their homelands, and do not stand as spectators or lie in wait for their states, as is the case with peoples who suffer from repression and the curtailment of freedoms by their states.

It is the right of the Egyptian people, who have made two huge revolutions deposing the dictator Mubarak and religious fascism, to enjoy the largest extent of freedom and respect for human rights in the framework of rebuilding the state to one that befits Egypt's worth and stature.

Even if there is violence or terrorism, addressing these should be executed with a mindset of a state that is governed by order, rules and law. Even if those working in the state apparatus broke from this or committed a breach of it, there must be strong deterrence against anyone committing crimes violating human rights and freedoms, not least to preserve respect of the state, its prestige and credibility as a state all for its citizens, and not one against them.

For example, torturing and killing prisoners, as happened in the case where police were transferring by van 37 prisoners, or in the case of Al-Mataryia Police Station, where a lawyer was killed because of torture, or in the case of the Police Hospital where a prisoner was shot dead — these are horrible crimes that need an immediate deterrence, or all of us are accomplices in the crime, even if only by shameful silence.

Even if the prisoners were terrorists, they were under control in a police station or prison or an affiliated hospital; their treatment should be in accordance with the law, even if they were sentenced to execution.

Moreover, resorting to bans on publishing on cases where a police officer is accused constitutes a restriction on society's right to know the truth and hold criminals accountable. Furthermore, the continuance of applying freedoms restricting laws, on top of which comes the protest law, which restricts this axiomatic right in any constitution, constitutes a generating factor for tension and political injustice.

Even the terrorist entities law defines these entities in a loose way that makes it possible to be applied on associations and organisations that belong to the political opposition. Moreover, inclusion within terrorist entities through a request of the prosecution to the Court of Appeal (without defence from those prosecuted in the first place) is an unfair system.

It is true that those affected can appeal against inclusion on the terrorist list, but until this happens a lot of distortion and insult will fall upon innocent associations. Thus, it must be returned to the legal rule that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. This means that the defence of those accused must be made before the persons or associations involved are included in the terrorist entities list.

We can sum up this by saying that freedom, human dignity and respecting human rights in the framework of a real democratic system does not contradict confronting terrorism; rather, it allows the best environment for this confrontation and also allows the best environment for economic development based on the human being, and aiming at bettering his livelihood and the overall conditions of his life in every field.

The writer is chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment.

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