No more technocrats; coalition government needed

Samer Soliman , Tuesday 27 Dec 2011

Because the interim government was composed of technocrats, it couldn’t garner the strength needed to force reform of state institutions

The trouble with the July 1952 regime was not only that it was tyrannical and condescending towards the people, or that it used torture and humiliation to subjugate the people. The problem with this regime was also that it failed in developing the country, to build an economic revival that could transform the country from being a swamp of ignorance and backwardness into a beacon of science and progress.

Poor Hosni Mubarak. We often blame him alone for the appalling conditions in Egypt. Here and there people say “Thirty years of oppression and injustice” or “Thirty years of tyranny and economic ruin,” as if the eras of Sadat and Nasser were epochs of freedom, justice and development. As if the problem was only Mubarak and his regime —that Mubarak did not inherit a heavy burden from his predecessors. In truth, the biggest problem with the July 1952 regime since its creation and until its serious rupture after the glorious January revolution is that it failed in leading state institutions. Hence, the Egyptian state failed in leading the economic development process. In fact, it was not very successful even in the minimal functions of any state, such as security, defence and the judiciary. Proof of this is the devastating defeat in 1967 and its failure in 1973 (except in liberating a narrow strip of land in Sinai, whereby it was forced to liberate the remainder later through agreements where it made many compromises).

The 1967 defeat was not the beginning of the demise of the July 1952 regime. Its demise began in the mid-1960s after the modest results of the first five-year plan of 1960-1965. The tragedy of the July 1952 regime is that it attempted to create socialism without socialists and capitalism without liberals. While the regime’s propaganda machine beat the drums of socialism in the 1960s, brilliant socialist and communist academic minds such as Fouad Morsi, Ismail Sabri Abdallah, and distinguished labour union leaders such as Taha Saad Othman were mining rocks under the whips of soldiers. This occurred at a time when the Socialist Union —that was supposed to lead the socialist development process —was controlled by mostly opportunist elements that had nothing to do with socialism.

The same thing happened during the transition to capitalism. While Sadat was beating the drums of economic openness in the 1970s, his regime put the Wafd Party under siege and encouraged religious currents. When Mubarak launched the second transformation to capitalism in the 1990s and the third transition in his final years, there was a determination that the process be led by senior civil servants and security agencies, and that it remain shut in the face of liberals except through the narrow door of the Policies Committee that some “liberals” believed was the passage to changing the political regime through parachuting the president’s son atop the political pyramid.

The July 1952 regime equally failed in achieving “socialist” development and “capitalist” development because it persisted in retiring politicians and creating a new political class mostly composed of officers and civil servants. Nasser became aware of the crisis of his political “Socialist Union” regime, and it is rumoured that he considered resigning from the presidency to dedicate his time to transforming the Socialist Union into a real political party. This, of course, didn’t happen, not only because of Nasser’s craving for power but more importantly because reforming the Socialist Union was impossible.

Political parties are not built from the top down but from the bottom up, which, by the way, is the major difference between the National Democratic Party (NDP) and China’s Communist Party. Both are authoritarian parties, but the Communist Party was built from the bottom up and entered bitter battles everywhere in China before it came to power. As for the NDP, it was born from the womb of the regime based on a decree from above by Sadat. This partially explains the disparities in achieving development in Egypt and China.

In order for the state to lead and encourage economic development it must be controlled by a strong institutional and political regime and not only rely on security agencies. This regime must possess the tools to muster the support and participation of popular forces to serve its projects, and also include political cadres capable of implementing blueprints. Effective political parties are key tools in this endeavour.

We are currently living in a “time out” from the July regime. Before Mubarak stepped down,the regime accepted what it had rejected for 60 years,through Vice President Omar Suleiman who met with the Muslim Brotherhood and other forces. It opened the door to politicians outside the state institution after it had lost control over civil servants and the security forces.

But handing over power, or some of it, to political leaders was postponed until the constitution was amended and elections held. This is how the caretaker government was formed, headed by civil servant or technocrat Essam Sharaf. Unfortunately, this government was approved under the pretext that the interim phase would not last longer than six months, or that Sharaf is honourable and was in Tahrir Square.

The interim phase, however, has been extended to 18 months or longer. This means that Egypt has wasted precious time that could have been invested in immediately launching the rule of politicians. The opposition was gravely mistaken to agree to a caretaker government made up of technocrats, civil servants and a handful of politicians, instead of a coalition government composed of the major political forces. It is shocking that after Sharaf’s cabinet failed miserably and the opposition suggested the idea of a salvation government, Ganzouri was chosen to lead this cabinet that includes the same elements that caused the failure of the previous government because it comprises of civil servants and does not have the support of political forces.

What is important now is that we have chosen two thirds of the seats in parliament, and only one third remains. Once parliament convenes, its members could agree on a coalition government supported by the political forces in it. In this manner, the Cabinet will have a strong base in society that it can rely on in implementing urgent reforms in state institutions. If the major political forces inside parliament reach consensus on this, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will not be able to procrastinate in forming a genuine popular government.

Any delay in forming this Cabinet is a waste of time because sooner or later a coalition government will be formed to take charge of the difficult task of reforming the state, and meeting the aspirations of the people to achieve an economic revival that will propel the country forward.

The era of civil servants and technocrat governments is over; it is time to hand over power to a government of political parties. The ball is in the court of political forces, most prominently the Freedom and Justice Party, who earned support through the ballot box, to move in this direction. But before forming the government a number of facts and principles must be discussed as the basis of the new Cabinet.

More on this later.

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