Debate on social justice from the three sides of Egypt’s political prism

Ahmed Feteha, Wednesday 15 Jun 2011

Representatives of Egypt's three main political schools offer their solutions to social injustice, but leave the audience with nothing tangible less than three months before elections

social justice
(Photo by Bassam ElZoghby)

What was advertised as a debate between representatives of Egypt’s three main political tendencies reveals their ideological convictions, but very little in practical, step-by-step plans.

Amr Hamzawy, Wael Khalil and Magdy Saad debated their liberal, leftist and Islamist stances, respectively, on the most pressing issue of social justice. They addressed an enthusiastic audience in a marble-coated, poorly ventilated meeting room in the lawyers’ syndicate headquarters on Tuesday.

As dissatisfying as the poor ventilation was to the sweating audience, they seemed more dissatisfied with the extremely theoretical notions presented by the speakers with little focus on practical policies.

Neither Hamzawy, Khalil nor Saad gave anything tangible on how their theories would be implemented should they wear the decision maker’s hat; which could happen very soon as parliamentary elections are due in less than three months.

Hamzawy confirmed this impression of unpreparedness when he said “What I’m presenting to you are some preliminary procedures… my full programme is not yet complete.”

The Cairo University professor spent most of his talk time defending capitalism; refuting stereotypical conceptions and distancing his liberalism from Mubarak’s regime.

“The past regime [Mubarak’s] was not liberal” Hamzawy said to pre-emptively counter argue the inevitable comparison between his proposed liberal policies and that of Gamal Mubarak and his entourage. “There was no economic mobility under Mubarak’s regime; small and medium enterprises were not able to grow.”

Hamzawy, stated that in order to ensure equal opportunity the government should have an active role in certain economic sectors, such as healthcare, to maintain fair competitive grounds for all market participants.

Another Mubarak era stigma that Hamzawy addressed was corruption. “Corruption is no stranger to market economies; in fact, it is inherent in such systems. The way to counter it is a transparent and honest rule of law.”

Unlike the liberal speaker, Wael Khalil, representing leftist thought, adopted a more revolutionary approach to social justice. “Social justice is not a component we add to Mubarak’s economy...the whole economic system must be restructured to integrate basic citizen rights.”

Khalil talked about reprioritising economic goals. “People’s welfare should come before profits” he explained “In a [free] market profits drive economic activity, investment directions and strategies; instead, we should have an economic system that serves people’s needs.”

Despite his radical approach that necessitates a paradigm shift in Egyptian economy, the leftist speaker did not sufficiently manifest how such a transition would be implemented in Egypt. He casually touched upon the issues of progressive taxation and nationalisation, suggesting the nationalisation of corruptly privatised companies.

He also proposed full civil and social involvement in economic planning and investment strategies, failing to explain the role of private capital in his new economy and the extent of government involvement in economic activity.

Khalil was blunt about his convictions, putting workers needs on top of economic priorities. Hamzawy, on the other hand, resorted to generalisations when he addressed the issue of workers’ involvement in economic planning.

“Labour syndicates in capitalist western countries are, in fact, heavily involved in setting investment directions and economic strategies, along with governments and investors” said Hamzawy, without providing any further details about the relationship between private capital and workers when it comes to “directing” investment.

For his part, Magdy Saad, the Islamist speaker, was the least consequential, receiving very little feedback and questions from the audience. He insisted that he was misinformed on the nature of the seminar. “I thought this was a gathering to discuss general thoughts on social justice…otherwise, I would have nominated a more specialised person from Islamic parties to participate.”

Saad advocates for waqf, an Islamic endowment system to raise funds for health, education and scientific research. "It is very common now in Turkey," he said.

He also proposed zakat, an Islamic 2.5 per cent tax on savings over one year in cash and gold, as a tool to balance out social justice. He did not, however, respond when one of the audience members asked him: "Do you mean you want to reduce taxes on the wealthiest from 25 per cent to 2.5 per cent?"

Once and again the speakers lacked well-thought implementation plans for measures that would balance Egypt's social injustice just months before Parliament elections are expected in Egypt.

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