An economic dawn

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Tuesday 25 Oct 2022


At the opening of the Egyptian Economic Conference 2022 on Sunday President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi detailed the economic policies planned for the next stage to deal with the volatile situation worldwide. But Al-Sisi’s statements also conveyed key political messages reflecting the main pillars of his approach to governance since taking office eight years ago. Tough economic reforms, he reiterated, cannot be achieved except without the collective effort and consent of both the government and people.

Egyptians are no doubt by and large concerned about the economic future, considering the many crises that have hit the economy in recent years. Yet, even before Covid-19 and the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine, problems that had accumulated over the past 50 years made the reform programme difficult.

Al-Sisi’s policy was to work along parallel lines, dealing with many deeply rooted problems, whether economic, social or political, at the same time. Economic reforms to make the economy more attractive for direct foreign investments were crucial, but so was working on improving the country’s decaying infrastructure, education, health, housing, industry and agriculture. Many government officials told the president that spending nearly LE 7 trillion in seven years was more than an unprecedented record. Yet, the president insisted that this amount was a drop in the sea of what was really needed to improve the living conditions of 100 million people.

All this took place while the country was facing the threat of terrorism after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood following phenomenal protests on 30 June 2013. Rather than adopting a “war economy” policy, imposing decisions not explained to the people, counterterrorism efforts involving great sacrifices by the army and police went hand in hand with economic reform and development.    

Unfortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood and its regional and international backers have never missed a chance to distort and undermine the reforms or achievements Egypt has been able to make over the past years. Al-Sisi said this contradicts their claim that they defend religion, because no religion would ever approve lies as a path to achieve the goal of taking over power. Some Brotherhood leaders, he added, have recently been circulating false claims about being ready to accept reconciliation with the regime, but their mission has been to weaken the morale of the Egyptian people and drive them to doubt every decision the government takes, spreading rumours and falsehoods.

The preesident noted in his remarks at the Economic Conference that those who make proposals on economic policies, including experts and economists, might be able to produce the best plans ever. Yet the reality is far more complicated, considering how any decision maker must deal with social and cultural issues as well as economic ones, including a decades-long popular attitude of dependence on the government to solve all problems alone.

The bureaucracy, too, has had a tough challenge to deal with, since red tape can easily generate obstacles to delay or abort attempts at reform. This is another question that Al-Sisi said he needed to deal with seamlessly, so as to enable the same bureaucracy and state institutions to embrace the reform process.

For 50 years or more, the stability of the regime had been prioritised over the real long-term interests of the people. By contrast, the president chose to make use of his popularity to take extremely tough decisions that no other Egyptian leader would dare discuss, such as lifting the subsidy on fuel and other public utilities, or devaluating  the Egyptian pound in 2016. He was confident that these were decisions that had to be taken, and he counted on the people’s confidence in his intentions to make them endure the consequences.

But the most important message the president delivered was probably that Egypt will no longer continue to depend on external assistance alone, even from Gulf nations who had offered generous support over many years. Even Egypt’s friendliest allies will eventually reach the conclusion that it is time for the country to stand on its own feet and make use of external funding to build a strong, independent economy for the long haul. That’s the key challenge the president, the government and the people must face in the next few years, which are to be the toughest due to the effects of the ongoing war in Ukraine on the entire world economy.

But, like all previous difficult challenges, it will be overcome with hard work, determination and the joint efforts of the people and decision-makers.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

Short link: