Book review: Political Foundations for Development

Reuters , Sunday 12 May 2013

A new book by Amr Ismail Adly tracks the parallel histories of Egypt and Turkey throughout 20 years to understand the fundamental reasons why Turkey stands many milestones ahead of Egypt on the development front

Amr Ismail
political foundation by Amr Ismail

Al usul al syaseya lil tanmeya ... al iktisad al syasi lil islah al mu'asasy fi misr wa turkeya (Political Foundations of Development ... The Political Economy of Institutional Reform in Egypt and Turkey 1980-2011) by Amr Ismail Adly, Cairo: Sefsafa Publishing, 2012. 334pp.

In an interesting comparison between the economic development experiences of Egypt and Turkey throughout the last thirty years, Egyptian researcher Amr Ismail Adly tracks the similarities of the early start of teh two experiences, yet while Turkey succeeded upon basing that development on an industrial base, Egypt failed due to its dependence on rentier sources of state finance, and these economic conditions eventually formed one of the factors that led to the revolt that ousted the 30-year-presidency of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

According to Adly, the economic model during the Mubarak era lacked the fundamental infrastructure to sustain and fix a productive capitalist system, and therefore growth depended on sources of rent such as increasing gas prices. In addition, Adly notes the overlap between state and wealth in a regime of political repression and lack of transparency or accountability, while Turkey created frameworks to manage the relationship between the state and the private sector, managing to increase imports in an impressive manner, from 8 billion USD in 1980 to over 107 in 2008.

Comparing the ruling elite in both countries, Adly found that while the Turkish elite's interests coincided with the reform of the institutions, the Egyptian equivalent elite sought to sustain the state institution, avoiding to take on the economic and political cost of reform.

The book includes a chapter on the missed opportunities of reform during Mubarak era, and the failure of the political system, and also a section on the sources of state income and reform. Adly concludes that Turkey succeeded due to its economic reform program with a transparent agenda that went hand in hand with economic liberalization, and thus was able to avoid the breakdown of the industrial sector of the nation, and this enabled a protection for their industrial production while gradually opening the economy starting early 1980s.

On the other hand, Adly tracks how the Egyptian state adopted speedy privatization, opening for the private sector while reducing the spending on education, health and housing, reaching the absolute worst model of the "elite capitalism" by staying biased to a select few businessmen who are close to the regime and its family.

Adly says that the social implications of what he considers the failure of economic policies in Egypt led to the increasing rate of protests between 2004 and 2010, taking unusual forms even under an oppressive regime that worked hard to end all forms of organizing, especially labor. He finds that the increasing rate of unrest in the last years led to the sense that what will determine the continuation of Mubarak regime is how much violence it was willing to exercise, until the conditions finally met for that regime to fall, in addition to the encouraging results from the Tunisian protests the preceded the January 25 revolution.

"Friday of Rage on 28 January 2011 was decisive in the history of the revolt movement that turned into mass protests that ousted the Mubarak regime in 18 days," Adly wrote, referring in particular to the speedy response from everyone, especially the cities around the Suez Canal that rushed to the revolution front.

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