Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
8 - 14 October 1998
Issue No.398
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

A new social contract

By Hussein Kamel Bahaeddin *

Hussein Kamel Bahaeddin

Hussein Kamel Bahaeddin

The 1973 victory enacted a new social contract between the people, the armed forces and their political leaders. It gave birth to a new spirit of hope in the future. Yet the aftermath of the war did not live up to our expectations. Once we awoke from our dreams, we realised that the war was not in fact over and we began to feel that it was we who were having to pay the bills while others reaped the fruit of this victory.

The Arab countries which had supported us during the war garnered the profits of rising petroleum prices, and as their economies boomed, they drew millions of migrant workers from Egypt, causing an enormous brain-drain as well as the break-up of millions of families.

The period from 1974 to 1981 was a period in which countless social and ideological conflicts came to a head. Socialism vied with democracy, the practice of a one-party state was increasingly at loggerheads with the claims of the multi-party system, the free market began to supplant the managed economy. The 1973 War had brought home the fact that while we were still struggling through the second industrial revolution, our enemy was well into the third technological revolution. Egyptian intellectual circles were torn apart by tensions. Liberals were pitted against socialists and communists, traditionalists against advocates of cultural openness, proponents of "Islam is the solution" against Nasserists, who themselves were fighting off the Sadatists.

It was also a period of unprecedented change in social attitudes, a phenomenon usually seen in the aftermath of major wars. The wave of materialism and opportunism engendered by the open-door policy exacerbated the suffering of the majority of the people, who had yet to feel any of the benefits of the shift in economic policy. The climate of stability produced by the peace accord with Israel only materialised toward the end of this period. In the meantime, many of our youth succumbed to a sense of frustration at not being able to find work. The tide of conspicuous consumption that engulfed the country seemed to many to spell the end of a dignified life on this earth. Many young people, unable to emigrate, sought refuge in the past and were an easy prey to foreign forces who fuelled their hatred and despair. Crowning this wave of psychological disorder came the assassination of President Sadat.

When President Mubarak assumed power in 1981 he inherited a society riven by deep divisions. However, the Egyptian people gave him their mandate and, on the basis of this new social contract, he was able to set in motion a process of national reconciliation. Prominent writers, journalists and politicians who had been detained under Sadat were released and democratic practices, an essential condition for social cohesion, were extended. In addition, education, one of the most fundamental components of national security, was given the highest priority in our national project. Educational curricula were revised and student study missions abroad were given a new impetus.

In short, the approach that led to our victory on 6 October 1973 was finally put in charge of building a modern Egypt. This approach is founded upon proper planning, education and training, modern technology and the development of a national information network which is vital to social cohesion.

* Hussein Kamel Bahaeddin is minister of education.