Egypt was never as close to the edge of the abyss as it was eight years ago. On the eve of the 30 June 2013 Revolution Egypt was on the verge of economic collapse, a process that had begun in January 2011 and continued as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) tightened its grip on power. State institutions were under threat, with the one exception of the army which stood up to all attempts to undermine the state and sacrifice it for the sake of the pipedream of an Islamic caliphate.
Egypt’s collapse would not just have been economic. The social fabric of the country, its regional role, and cultural identity were all being shredded.
The MB, like all contemporary Islamists, had no idea of how a state is run. Instead, it set about dismantling the state under the illusion that it could be replaced by a larger version of itself.
A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in September 2013 identified serious concerns about the authoritarian nature of MB discourse and the threat this posed to Egyptian identity, national unity, national security, freedom, and democracy.
Under the MB Egypt was on its way to becoming, at best, a quasi-state, at worst, a failed one.
Late sociologist Sayed Yassin published an article in Al-Ahram on 28 March 2013, summarising the social climate under the MB. Yassin argued that “the policies of despair” had cast a shadow over both the public and political elite, poisoning the social climate at a time when the country was facing serious crises that had resulted from the political classes’ inability to make the right decisions at the right time. Given the failure of the opposition political elite to present well thought-out alternatives to resolve the crises, Yassin called for a firm confrontation of these “policies of despair”. Due to the failure, or rather incompetence, of the MB to address this since they are the main cause of the situation, the people stepped up with an effective remedy of removing the MB from power.
AT A NEWS CONFERENCE on 6 May 2012 in Luxor, MB member Mohamed Morsi, then a presidential candidate, made rosy proclamations: “Our reform programme will lift Egypt up within 100 days.”
Morsi counted five main crises facing the country: traffic, security, bread, rubbish collection, and fuel. He said that the MB was not clambering to be in government, which he characterised as a liability not a prize. He claimed he and his group had made deals with oil companies to pump $200 billion into Egypt which would create giant projects to replenish state coffers, revive the economy, and provide new jobs.
The MB’s so-called Renaissance Project included increasing the number of tourists from 12 million to 20 million in a short time, and had a declared focus on improving living conditions in Upper Egypt. It weaved its promises into a slogan during the elections: “We bring good to Egypt”.
Yet withing a year of the MB coming to power the economy was on the brink of collapse. There was no sign of the promised Egyptian people did not see the MB’s renaissance on the horizon after a year, let alone after 100 days. The public came to understand that the MB had spun a mirage in order to seize power.
THE IMMINENT COLLAPSE was gauged by international financial institutions. During the one year of MB rule Egypt’s credit rating had plunged into negative territory. Five months after the MB’s removal from power following the 30 June revolution, when the people took to the streets in unprecedented numbers, Egypt’s credit rating was back in positive territory.
When credit ratings fell again in May 2016, the move was quickly redressed by launching economic reforms and liberalising the exchange rates. Since then, the stable rating of Egypt’s economy has been maintained, even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Egypt’s GDP growth rate began to rise, reaching 5.6 per cent before the Covid-19 pandemic. Unemployment dropped to 7.3 per cent compared to 13.3 per cent in 2013. GDP rose from LE1.7 trillion to LE6.4 trillion in 2020, and is expected to reach LE7.1 trillion in 2021. In January 2013, foreign currency reserves had dropped to $13.6 billion. After the June Revolution, foreign currency reserves began to increase. By January 2014 they had reached $17.1 billion, and by October 2016, just before the decision to float the pound, reserves had reached $20 billion. They continued to rise, to $45.4 billion by 2019, then fell back to $39.2 billion as a result of the pandemic. They are now back to $40 billion plus.
ECONOMIC IMPROVEMENTS have allowed the state to forge ahead and build what is essentially a new republic.
This new state, as envisioned by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, has no room for slums: Egyptians deserve better than areas of concentrated substandard accommodation which bring with them serious social, economic and security concerns.
So began the epic campaign to eliminate slums, starting with the creation of the Informal Settlements Development Fund. Efforts began in areas that posed the greatest threat to citizens, and resulted in Asmarat, Gheit Al-Enab, Tal Al-Aqareb, Ahaleena and Bashayer Al-Kheir. The result of the campaign was an end to a chronic headache, a success that was recognised by UN-Habitat in April 2021when it launched a regional programme for the elimination of slums inspired by the Egyptian example.
The new state was also determined to eliminate haphazard construction and expand the land available for housing away from the Nile valley. Accordingly, it set out to construct new urban centres to global standards, including the New Administrative Capital, Alamein, Galala and Damietta Furniture. The goal, according to the New Urban Communities Authority affiliated with the Ministry of Housing and Construction, is the construction of 44 new cities across the country.
Simultaneously, the state launched a groundbreaking project to develop the Egyptian countryside, where 57 per cent of the population lives in villages and their dependencies. As part of the comprehensive presidential Decent Life initiative, LE500 billion has been earmarked for improvements to infrastructure, and health and other across rural Egypt.
Such development required a radical overhaul of transport networks. The national roads project is unlike anything Egypt has seen before, in terms of both the number of new roads constructed, and the quality and speed of their execution. The project has seen the length of the highway and main roads network increase to 30,500km, compared to 23,500km in 2014.
Another feature of the old state that needed to be erased were the regular power cuts that afflicted domestic households and cause factories to close. Today, Egypt enjoys an electricity surplus which it exports. It is home to some of the largest power plants in the world, and has ventured into the world of alternative energy. On top of this, gas discoveries are leading the way not only towards self-sufficiency, but making Egypt a regional energy hub.
The new state understands that the most important pillar on which it stands comprises its citizens, whose health and education are of vital importance. One could not talk about a new state as long as an estimated 22 per cent of its population had hepatitis C. The president launched the 100 Million Health campaign, screening 60 million Egyptians, and the country is now on the verge of eliminating hepatitis C.
More presidential health initiatives followed. School children have been screened for obesity and stunting, and ambitious plans are underway to end waiting lists for surgical operations and breast cancer screening. Most notably, the state began to implement long overdue universal health insurance.
This focus on the health of Egyptians is reflected in a 183 per cent increase in the budget for healthcare which has grown from LE33 billion in 2013 to LE93.5 billion in 2020.
In 2014, President Al-Sisi launched the initiative Towards an Egyptian Society that Learns, Thinks and Innovates. This included the creation of the Egyptian Knowledge Bank in 2014, the largest digital library in the world. As with healthcare, the budget for education reflects the priority the state gives to this sector. The budget of the Ministry of Education has increased by 146 per cent, from LE64 billion in 2013 to LE157 billion in 2020.
IN 2020 THE NEW STATE RANKED 19 out of the top 20 economies in the world according to the IMF, and is the second largest Arab economy. In February 2021, the British news website lovemoney.com predicted Egypt will jump to seventh place by 2030.
In the field of education Egypt jumped 11 places in the Global Knowledge Index’s rankings of pre-university education. Egypt’s standing also improved in technical education: it advanced 23 places in one year. In the Quality of Roads Index it jumped 90 places to reach 28th in 2019 after ranking a dismal 118 in 2014.
On the Governance Effectiveness Index, Egypt moved up nine places between 2015 and 2020. It also jumped 12 places on the Institutions Efficiency Index, and five places on the Intellectual Property Index. In 2020, the National Project for Digital Transformation also rose in the Digital Inclusion Index issued by the Roland Berger Foundation. Egypt is now one of the top ten fastest growing countries in terms of digital inclusion.
DOWN WITH THE RULE OF THE SUPREME LEADER, the chant voiced by millions that heralded the emergence of the new state, encapsulated the public’s refusal of the MB’s political exploitation of religion and attempts to impose its reductionist version of Islam.
President Al-Sisi has underlined the importance of rejuvenating religious discourse and regaining Egypt’s moderate religious tone and tolerance.
The state has worked steadily to eliminate the possibility of sectarian strife being used to fragment society. It restored all the churches burned down by the MB, removed the burden of the Humayun Decree, and issued Law 80/2016 to regulate the construction and renovation of churches. It also built the largest cathedral in the Middle East, the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, in the New Administrative Capital, alongside Al-Fattah Al-Alim Mosque. The president also ended the hesitation of his predecessors in attending Christmas celebrations at St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya.
In the field of politics, the number of Coptic MPs was 39 in the 2015 elections and 37 in the 2020 elections, compared to 12 in 2011 and 10 in 2010.
FOREIGN POLICY has evolved in line with progress on the home front and now reflects the solid ground on which the new republic stands.
Egypt, which for a long time appeared intent on retreating from a leading regional role and looked almost isolated immediately after the 30 June revolution, advanced rapidly to restore international relations across the globe and recover its standing in international organisations. Countries openly hostile to Egypt for years after the revolution have recently de-escalated their criticisms.
Egypt was able to single-handedly fight terrorism, and is model to follow on this front. It does not allow anyone to threaten its security or that of its citizens. When the terrorist Islamic State group dared to slit the throats of Egyptian citizens in Libya the response was immediate and exacting. When the threat from mercenaries in Libya drew closer, Egypt drew a red line from Sirte to Jufra, a move that helped get Libya back on to a constructive political track.
Egypt’s return to the African fold has been marked by an increasing warmth in relations with African states. Meanwhile, relations with major world powers have been stripped of any suspicion of dependence. Egypt succeeded in diversifying its sources of armament which surprised everyone.
Egypt’s ties now are based on common interests and complete parity. Cairo’s decisions are no longer contingent on any regional or international party. Thus has Egypt returned to being an epicentre for political resolutions of regional issues and crises.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly