Navigating reform strategies

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 23 Jan 2024

The government’s newly-released six-year economic strategy is up for debate by the National Dialogue, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

the National Dialogue
The National Dialogue


An eight-point document released by the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) on 7 January and entitled “Strategic Directions for the Egyptian Economy for the Period 2024-2030” will be debated during the second round of National Dialogue sessions, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said this week. The decision to send the document to the National Dialogue is meant to open the door for the largest number of economic experts and interest groups to discuss it and help reach national consensus over its points, Madbouli said.

According to cabinet spokesperson Mohamed Al-Homosani, the document took six months of drafting and discussion. This came via workshops which were attended by 400 experts from local and international circles. It was agreed that the Egyptian economy is capable of achieving the document’s ambitious targets in economic growth, investment, and exports, Al-Homosani said. 

He explained that the strategy’s priorities are boosting foreign exchange inflows to $300 billion by 2030, achieving an average constant economic growth of six per cent to eight per cent, adopting a national investment strategy to attract LE32 trillion, increasing annual exports to $145 billion, and boosting the private sector’s contribution to the economy from 60 per cent to 90 per cent by 2030. The strategy, he added, also aims to create seven million to eight million jobs, reduce the trade deficit to no more than two per cent of GDP, narrow the budget deficit to no more than five per cent, decrease debt service to eight per cent of GDP and cut inflation rates to single digits by 2025.

The document, Al-Homosani said, includes 873 recommendations for developing the national economy while its ambitious targets are in line with Egypt’s 2030 vision for sustainable development.

Al-Homosani revealed in a statement on 19 January that the government of Prime Minister Madbouli has finalised drafting an executive plan for implementing the recommendations passed by the first round of National Dialogue sessions which ended in August 2023. The round saw the passing of 133 recommendations, 61 of which are related to the social track, 37 to the political track and 35 to the economic track, Al-Homosani said.

The General Coordinator of the National Dialogue’s Board of Trustees Diaa Rashwan said in a TV interview this week that members of the board will meet soon to prepare for the second round of the dialogue’s sessions. The board, said Rashwan, will also review the government’s executive plan for implementing recommendations passed by the first round of the National Dialogue, and hopes are high that these recommendations will be translated into laws that will be passed by parliament in its current legislative season. “We do not want people to wait a long time to see that the recommended reforms have become facts on the ground,” Rashwan said.

Several MPs told Al-Ahram Weekly that the cabinet’s decision to implement the National Dialogue’s first phase recommendations shows that Madbouli’s government is serious about turning the dialogue’s proposed list of reforms into reality on the ground. MP Amr Darwish recalled that following his re-election last month, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi vowed that the government will implement all the reforms put forward by the national dialogue. This, Darwish said, sent a message of confidence and reassurance to citizens that the country’s political leadership “does not have any second thoughts on the proposed reforms and that it is determined to implement them in all sectors”. 

Senator Ihab Wahba, a member of the People’s Republican Party, said “hopes are high that the implementation of the reforms drafted by the first round of the National Dialogue will take Egypt to a new age of real democracy.

“The first round opened the door for opposition forces to voice their demands for drafting new legislation that will pave the way for democratic change and political openness,” Wahba said.

Hisham Abdel-Aziz, head of the Reform and Renaissance Party, said it was clear from this week’s announcement that Madbouli had taken full note of the first phase of the National Dialogue’s recommendations, and that he gave instructions to various ministries to implement them in an orderly way. “We hope that the government will continue informing the public about the progress of its executive plan in a transparent and democratic manner,” Abdel-Aziz said. 

Cabinet spokesperson Al-Homosani noted that the government had received a raft of proposed political, economic and social reforms from the National Dialogue’s board of trustees. In political terms, said Al-Homosani, the dialogue’s participants want as much power to be devolved to elected local councils as possible and recommended that councils be independent in terms of their performance and budget.

Al-Homosani noted that the dialogue’s first phase participants had also agreed that new legislation be drafted to regulate local councils, with the majority favouring a combination of the closed system and open proportional lists to elect local council members. 

Al-Homosani said participants also want the 2014 law on the exercise of political rights be amended to give greater freedom in terms of election campaigning and media coverage, and that changes be introduced to the Political Parties Law 40/1977 to make it easier to set up political parties.

He also indicated that participants want a new law to establish an anti-discrimination commission and another to regulate the handling of information. Moreover, he added, they want laws regulating NGOs, trade unions, and cooperatives to play a greater role in the development process. Participants, Al-Homosani said, also want a more liberal academic life and propose that the government forge a number of cooperation protocols with foreign universities to facilitate the exchange of expertise. 

Amr Hashem Rabie, Al-Ahram’s political analyst, said participants in the dialogue also proposed that the laws regulating pre-trial detention be amended to open the door for the release of hundreds of political and human rights activists. “We hope that this priority will be top on the agenda of the government’s executive plan,” Rabie said.

As for social reforms, Al-Homosani said the government’s executive plan is set to draft several laws that will achieve the main objectives of reforms. The proposed reforms in this area, he added, recommend that the government overhauls the 1952 guardianship law which deprives millions of women of control over financial and educational decisions of their children. “The major reform in this respect proposes that in the case of a father’s death, guardianship goes directly to the mother rather than to the paternal grandfather,” Al-Homosani said. He also noted that reforms propose that the government forges a long-term strategy for supporting young business leaders by offering a new package of incentives to encourage them to set up investment projects in economic free zones.

Al-Homosani said that social reforms as passed by the National Dialogue’s first phase also recommend that the government speed up the implementation of universal health insurance across Egypt. He said participants want the government to draft a unified law for regulating pre-university education. They also want an annual national conference to be held to discuss strategies of cooperation between the government and the private sector in improving educational systems and teacher performance, Al-Homosani said.

As for economic reforms, Al-Homosani said there is focus on improving the investment climate. National Dialogue participants, he said, believe that bureaucracy and red tape are still a big obstacle in the way of investment inflows, and that they want the government to do more in this area to bolster confidence in the Egyptian economy. 

Al-Homosani said the National Dialogue’s reforms recommend that the government also amend the investment law to introduce greater incentives to the private sector. 

Wafdist MP Ayman Mehasseb said he believed the government should also do more to speed up privatisation “as this is important to attract foreign investments and raise much-needed foreign exchange revenues.”

Al-Homosani indicated that the government’s executive plan will also work on implementing the National Dialogue’s recommendations in industry and agriculture. Participants in the dialogue, he said, want the government to do more on simplifying industrial licensing measures and localising industries, while in agriculture they want new policies for achieving food security, boosting agricultural exports and providing farmers with low-priced production inputs in a bid to cut costs and reduce vegetable and fruit prices on the local market.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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