There are many urgent tasks and challenges that Egypt needs to address from the start of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s anticipated second term.
Here I will enumerate seven: promoting industrialisation, developing education, creating jobs, curbing the population explosion, achieving water and food security, realising the principles of social justice and equal opportunity, and fighting takfiri thought.
Taking these in turn, industrialisation (developing, broadening and modernising manufacturing processes) is the primary engine of comprehensive and sustainable economic development. It is the cornerstone of security, in both its national and broader human developmental senses.
It is the key to ensuring the protection of the dignity of the Egyptian people, improving the quality of their lives, and generating more job opportunities and higher wages.
In addition, in order for Egypt to regain its rightful position of international leadership and to ensure that its will is respected it must optimise its industrial, technological, productive and, hence, comprehensive strength.
The Egyptian economy will not be freed from budgetary deficiencies, trade imbalances and the weight of debt until it becomes an industrialised nation.
The government therefore needs to forge effective strategies and policies that seek to reduce the obstacles to industrialisation, rectify market failures, produce educated and skilled labour, promote investment in scientific and technological research and development, minimise the costs of the land and other prerequisites for industry, provide commercial safeguards and insurance at reasonable costs, support export trade, check currency fluctuations, and offer direct support to industrial entrepreneurship in the form of tax incentives and the like.
Secondly, insufficient funding can hamper the ability to meet the constitutionally stipulated right to education.
The government must provide the resources needed to improve the quality of education. It must simultaneously abide by two UNESCO principles regarding the universal right to education.
The first is justice, whereby poverty or any other such reason should not be an obstacle to the right to education.
The second is merit, whereby education up to its highest levels is available to all who are able to meet the academic requirements. We must bear in mind that all the countries that emerged from the vicious cycle of poverty and ignorance into the realms of progress and prosperity could not have achieved their quantum leaps without prioritising spending on education.
Decent education helps produce the qualified labour that attracts investment in industry while industrialisation helps produce the resources necessary to enhance the quality of education.
Thirdly, there can be no job creation or economic growth without industrialisation.
As a UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) report observed, the manufacturing industries furnished one out of every six job opportunities in the world in 2009 and every job opportunity created in the manufacturing sector created two more job opportunities outside that sector.
Industrialisation, moreover, not only increases jobs, it improves the quality of jobs, their productivity and salaries.
Fourthly, by raising people’s aspirations, industrialisation also becomes one of the main incentives for birth control.
As Gamal Hamdan observed over 30 years ago, the problem of overpopulation lies behind the deterioration in everything from food sufficiency to the quality of manufactures to the quality of public services, hygiene, urban aesthetics and even morals and ethics in day-to-day interactions.
Overpopulation could kill Egypt if we do not kill it first. No problem in Egypt can be solved without beginning with the overpopulation problem.
Otherwise it will continue to undermine all the solutions we conceive to remedy other problems.
Fifthly, the eminent Egyptian irrigation expert Mahmoud Abu Zeid said that, even disregarding the period it will take to fill the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the natural annual flow of the Blue Nile to Egypt will be reduced if Ethiopia uses the dam for purposes other than to generate electricity. Egypt must summon all its political and diplomatic energies and arm itself with all necessary technical and legal studies and data in order to confront that project.
Egypt already suffers an approximately 23 billion m3 water deficit. According to another expert, Saad Nassar, Egypt’s self-sufficiency in wheat has dropped to below 57 per cent, making us the world’s number one wheat importer.
Even before President Al-Sisi’s first term, our self-sufficiency in corn feed, fava beans and lentils fell to 20, 28 and one per cent, respectively.
Sixthly, the efficacy and justice of our socioeconomic system form the basis of its legitimacy. State intervention to offset market failure, to safeguard social justice and to optimise economic efficiency has been justified both in theory and empirically.
Egyptian industrial entrepreneurship has a crucial role to play in our socioeconomic system, on the condition that this sector performs its social, developmental and national duties.
This is the essence of building the citizen state, or the state for all its citizens, which includes the gamut of large, middle and small Egyptian entrepreneurs. No one disputes the businessman’s right to realise the greatest amount of profits possible.
This is what distinguishes a business enterprise from a philanthropic activity.
Nor can we deny that the profit incentive helps drive initiative, risk and innovation, which are essential for the processes of industrialisation, development and progress.
However, the business of making a profit should not conflict with the need for society to gain in tandem with the individual’s gains.
Lastly, the challenge of rescuing the state and, indeed, the nation and our national identity, was Egypt’s most urgent task during President Al-Sisi’s first term.
Now, Egypt needs to rise to the imperative of uprooting terrorism in a comprehensive manner.
This entails combating and uprooting the sources of Salafist takfiri thought, which constantly generates potential recruits for terrorists, incites hatred against Christians as well as against all who strive to reform religious thinking, and threatens to sow social discord and chaos.
The writer is a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly