Social justice in Egypt can wait: Galal Amin
Ahmed Feteha, Thursday 8 Mar 2012
Author of 'Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?' says economic stability should be achieved before tackling inequality and social justice

Social justice is among Egypt's problems that should be solved in the long term and it is wrong to tackle it now, said famed economist Galal Amin on Thursday.

Amin explained that it is unwise to try and improve social justice when the Egyptian economy is experiencing turbulence.

"If progressive taxation will fix the situation of social injustice, but drives investors away, then it is not it's time now," Amin said during a media roundtable discussion at the American University in Cairo (AUC) entitled 'Egypt's Economic Woes: Fact or Fiction'.

Social justice is seen to be among the chief reasons behind the popular uprising in January 2011 that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

During the past year, the Egyptian cabinet took some measures to improve the living conditions of many Egyptians, including the enactment of a minimum wage rate and a salary cap.

"It is not even the time for minimum and maximum wages," Amin added. "The investor is currently scared [of coming to Egypt]."

Three other prominent economic scholars talked at the roundtable discussion and all affirmed the gravity of the difficulties facing the Egyptian economy and its need for immediate remedy.

Following the uprising, Egypt has seen a sharp drop in foreign direct investment and tourism revenues, sluggish economic growth as well as a rapid depletion of its once extensive FX reserves.

Gala Amin, a prominent and well-read economist, went on to classify the current problems of the Egyptian economy into three categories.

The first category includes old and persistent problems which he have been going on for 40 years and include sluggish growth, increasing inequality and high unemployment.

"These problems appeared in the early seventies after the open door policies," Amin explained. "The government lifted its hand from economic activity but did not direct, supervise or fill the gaps left by the private sector."

The second category includes problems arising as a consequence of the unrest Egypt faced since 25 January 2011.

"These problems include drops in tourism revenue, investments and remittances which led to the drop in [GDP] growth rate and increases in prices," Amin added, explaining that these problems result from the deterioration of security in Egypt and the lack of clarity regarding the country's identity.

He added that such problems are more or less normal after a period of unrest and could be fixed relatively quickly.

The third category includes problems that he described as "shocking."

"After the revolution, the government either took wrong decisions, or failed to take them."

These problems, the veteran social commentator added, include not reforming the security and the media apparatus or effectively perusing any funds illegally transferred outside Egypt by member of the Mubarak regime.

"Even on the issue of foreign loans and aid, the government's statements on the subject were ambiguous and incomprehensible."

Amin heavily criticised the government's stance towards the $3.2 billion loan from the IMF which Egypt rejected in June 2011 only to renegotiate it in January.

"It is hard to say that these grave mistakes were honestly made," Amin said. "They have to be intentional, but for what purpose, I still don't know,"

Asked about what would be his first order of business if he was prime minister or minister of finance, Amin responded that, "All the technical solutions to Egypt's economic problems are well known, but what is their use if the political will is not there?!"

"Egypt needs to strike a balance between market freedom and government intervention," the author of Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? added.

"Egypt wants a government that is capable and sincere [about overcoming its economic problems]" he explained.