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Book review: Does Egypt need the hidden power?

New book by Sameh Fawzy discusses the value of social capital and the role of civil society organisations in Egypt

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Monday 18 Jun 2012
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Al-Qowwa Al-Khafeya (The Hidden Power) by Sameh Fawzy, Cairo: General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, 2012. 213pp.

Sameh Fawzy’s new book ends with the hope that Egyptian civil society organisations will one day become truly socially driven and operated by people who are willing to serve the public sphere in a diverse and respectful manner.

The January 25 Revolution contained two important social aspects, according Fawzy. The first is the solidarity between people from diverse backgrounds who all joined hands to topple the regime. The second is the solidarity between neighbours on every street, defending their neighbourhoods from thugs after police withdrew from the streets. This opened the way to discover the traditional ties of solidarity among neighbours.

These two phenomena in particular are what socio-political researchers call ‘social capital'. If people have the physical capital of money and assets; the human capital of human experience; the religious capital of discourse, religious figures and spiritual experiences; by comparison, social capital is the fabric that allows all the others to work and bear fruit.

Fawzy discusses social capital in various disciplines, for example in economics where it’s considered a tool to reduce transaction costs, and in political science it focuses on freedom to organise and citizenship. In sociology, social capital is connected to the building of structures, official or unofficial. The concept "travels," says Fawzy.

In this context, the author discusses the contribution of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to the building of Egyptian social capital, referring to a study by the Social Capital Initiative at the World Bank, which confirmed that social capital has an important impact on planning and development programmes in many countries. The study concluded that the history of development proves direct investment in social capital is a priority, in addition to investment in physical and human capital.

An important conclusion is that there is an imbalance between the roles of the state and society in the production of social capital in favour of state organisations. While society is better at producing this capital, the state has to play a bigger role through encouraging “values of rational governance: transparency, accountability, rule of law, participation, democracy, reform of the administrative organisation.”

In reality, the role played by civil society organisations is one of the important means to transform society from dependence on the state to dependence on people themselves and their skills and capabilities. This is where efforts should go, with laws to support this role, providing a full chance to build society.

The book was originally the PhD thesis submitted by Fawzy to the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, and it required five years of work, including two months at Stanford University in the US and Sussex University in the UK.

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