Critics claim that Egypt is bare of freedom. Hence a lot of NGO’s and think tanks have put their effort into (I’m slightly exaggerating) a ‘failed state’ narrative, leading to, that Egypt has been officially categorized as “autocracy/restricted democracy”.
Critics invoke spinsters from the old past -“Egypt’s state institutions, the oldest in the world, and its political culture, have little tradition of respecting civil liberties. Some periods have been worse than others – the worst was actually under Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the 1950s and ’60s, when many thousands of political prisoners were sent “behind the sun” to camps in the Western Desert.” – and the newer past under Mubarak, when the attempt to rid the public space from radical members of the Muslim Brotherhood who invoked terror had lead the security forces of the Mubarak government to crack down hard against radical Islamists.
On the foreign media surface, the general mood in Egypt looks like one of a country, that yearns to be liberated into a western-democracy. January 25th 2011, the onset of the Arab Spring in Egypt, had, in my opinion, been planned as an ambitious foreign policy project, fostered by Western governments.
Though the Egyptians could save themselves from the fate of its neighbor countries, ‘the Arab spring’ has chosen to sow the seeds of democracy in the oldest nation. Regretfully few take note of the changes already achieved, the process, which had been initiated by president El-Sisi, to whom most foreign media and local activists openly or secretly relate to as a ‘dictator’ has brought substantial results. Now, with a parliament in place, we might hopefully soon witness a society of participating citizens.
Everyone agrees it still is a very long way to go, until the spirit for a self-determined life in freedom paired with communal obligations can reach out to a majority of people. For now, one will see a more or less disillusioned population, with almost everyone suffering under the economic consequences of a failed Muslim Brotherhood regime. Most activists and think-tankers are suggesting, that neither social justice nor progress can ever be expected under the current leadership.
An article in a local paper, reflecting opposing views, headlines: “The way issues are being run in Egypt today reminds me of the atmosphere before the 25 of January revolution.” –
Is that really so?
There can be no social justice, progress and building democratic institutions without a solid source of state income and thriving private entrepreneurship. While this is a truism, the expectation in most Egyptian citizens for instant cure of social ills and instant remedy of justified grievances has been a reality ever since 2011.
While president El-Sisi receives a – comparatively speaking – modest salary, of which he donates half to the ‘Long live Egypt’ fund [launched in October 2014 by some businessmen, headed by a former Central Bank governor to finance urgent projects], every post-revolution government has raised the wages of public servants and employees. For a considerable number of recipients, civil servants add up to about seven Million people, the, nominally low salaries, had been increased three times. This, together with the minimum salary debates, has shifted the whole issue of wages payment and expectations further out of touch with work-productivity. But it has prompted the self-understanding, that offering pre-revolutionary salaries in a private sector job would get you flabbergasted reactions. When El-Sisi started his tenure, one of his first concerns had been to curb this spiral of increasing prices, part of which were owed to raised costs for commodities, the bigger part of the ever up-climbing price-spiral were self-inflicted.
There is hardly any criticism, which wouldn’t take the chance these days to polemicize [quoting an opposition mainstream sentiment] that “The word revolution implies a profound change in social and political structures, which did not happen.” – A popular slam as well is to point out ‘the futility’ of Egypt’s biggest, already accomplished, national project, the extension of the Suez-Canal, cheering maliciously once revenues fall short of expectations .
The historical economical baggage, Egypt is burdened with, goes back to the times of Gamal Abdel Nasser. He failed to care for a flourishing agriculture, the fundament of growth for various industries. While his post-revolution Egyptian Land Reform was an effort to change land ownership practices in Egypt following the 1952 Revolution, the effects of this land reform drew to a halt as the population of Egypt moved away from agriculture.
As it holds still true ‘food is more essential for life than are the services provided by merchants or bankers or factories, an economy cannot shift to such activities unless food is available for barter or sale in sufficient quantities to support those engaged in them’, El-Sisi has given significant priority to develop agriculture.
Shortly after president El-Sisi has taken office, developing infrastructure and agriculture are on the national development priority list.
The projects discussed after he took office and during the investment summit in March 2015 are being translated into action.
China, Germany, Saudi-Arabia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates [alphabetical order] lead the long list of countries with companies, who have signed for substantial investment in Egypt.
On December 30th, the plan for the reclamation of 1.5 million feddans of desert land was ‘formally initiated, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announcing the commencement of the first phase of this latest mega-project‘, due to be completed within two years. The idea is, that small farmers and big investors alike are to be sold plots of land throughout this project – in which owners may purchase expansive tracts of lands, with the state-administered Egyptian Rural Development Company supervising both: sale and distribution of desert lands designated for reclamation. – Given that completion of the second branch of the Suez Canal extension had been initially set for three years, yet it has been operational after only one year, one could assume, this – widely criticized undertaking too will run on schedule.
Where are we now?
The Prime Ministers’ headline from a local paper a couple of days ago read “Egypt needs 6% growth for the people to feel the effects” doesn’t seem to predict economic relief – given, that nearly none of the average citizen is without financial strain but with a considerable number of people in merely upgraded from agonizing to precarious circumstances and with his GDP growth expectation at 5%.
President El-Sisi has said it before the presidential elections and after he had been inaugurated into office: “Don’t expect the economical situation in Egypt to improve before two years”
The overwhelming solidarity, with which Egyptian citizens financed the Suez-Canal project through state-certificates, lead me to hope that Sisi’s call ‘People! Roll-up-your-sleeves!’ would trigger wide-spread initiatives. Instead I came to realize, that more than sixty years in varying degrees of suppressive governance has formed a nation, in which only the most energetic individuals find their way to the surface of an otherwise cumbersome work population.
It is in this context that I estimate the necessity of the Presidential Leadership Program, launched in October 2015. While the PLP – acquiring skills in governance, administrative & political fields but most importantly in critical, analytical thinking – addresses already only ‘the fittest’, it is meant to reach out to those, who need peer role-models to understand about their own capacities, since the most noble goal of the program is to empower the youth, who feels – in big parts – left out, as the yet unreformed public education sector and a staggering youth unemployment rate of ~ 27% has created, what most describe as a ‘cultural gap’.
In the meantime administrative bodies work towards the future.
To address but one issue: Egypt went through its worst energy crisis in decades starting in 2012, with power cuts common as its ageing state-run infrastructure struggles to handle rapidly growing demand for electricity in a country of now 90 million people. Siemens got its biggest single contract ever and is one key partner in developing gas-fired power plants and wind power installations that will boost Egypt’s power generation capacity by more than 50 percent compared to the currently installed base. The big power plants are scheduled to generate electricity as of summer 2017; to bridge peak demand in the summer of 2016 Siemens will help refurbish old steam turbines and there will be an installation of distributed generation units to deliver additional power generation capacity on short notice close to locations where demand is the highest.
A lot of pragmatism with aggressive schedules define the overall working-atmosphere in Egypt’s executives floors. Naturally, all individuals, involved in or working for those projects get their share of pressure. There, the notorious Egyptian work ethos, grown under Nasser’s socialism, which had been summarized as ‘Bokra, in sh’allah, malesh’ [tomorrow, God willing, don’t worry’] seems like light years away.
I still hope that the steam of that pressure-pot will spread throughout the country a bit faster and productivity will be as self-understanding and providing adequate compensation.
Democracy & Freedom is not only bought with a great price, but it is maintained by unremitting effort.~