Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Issue No. 457
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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A matter of life and death

By Ibrahim Nafie

Ibrahim Nafie At the beginning of his first term in office, President Mubarak designated comprehensive development as the highest national priority; and so it has remained throughout his presidency. Comprehensive development is the only way to raise our standards of living and enhance Egypt's capacity to compete in a world that shows no mercy for the underprivileged and unassertive, a world that is constantly posing new challenges.

Egypt has no alternative but to interact positively with this harsh and changing world. Positive interaction, however, does not mean that we must abandon our cultural and ideological values, nor that we should blindly imitate the development experiences of other countries. Rather, it entails a proactive approach to change as we capitalise on our achievements and forge ahead in the process of autonomous development.

Development is a logically constructed, incremental, integrative process. In his inaugural address before the People's Assembly and the Shura Council, the president stressed three conditions for achieving sustainable autonomous development. The first is the need to upgrade productive sectors in order to effect a qualitative leap in Egyptian export trade. The second, in essence, constitutes a reaffirmation of the higher humanitarian objective of the development process. Comprehensive development must be a balanced and equitable process that always takes into account the needs and interests of the economically disadvantaged sectors of society. The third condition provides a fundamental mechanism towards this end, and entails enhancing the scope of democratic participation in the decision-making process and ensuring the genuine representation of all sectors of the population. Together, these three principles are certain to propel the development process forward and establish the Egyptian experience as a model worthy of emulation in other parts of the world.

Indeed, the Egyptian model would be no small contribution to global development. Some models of economic development scored breath-taking records of exponential growth only to suffer ignominious collapse. In their exclusive focus on material concerns, they ignored the social and political dimensions of development, thus allowing wealth to accumulate in the hands of a few while turning a blind eye to basic principles of fairness and equity.

When we contemplate these experiences, which ultimately proved so vulnerable that billions of dollars were lost literally overnight, we become acutely aware of the pitfalls we must avoid. Simultaneously, we develop an even greater appreciation of the comprehensive reform process initiated by President Mubarak, which is grounded in the conviction that the only true guarantee for development in Egypt resides in the active involvement of the Egyptian people in both the development effort and its fruits.

Nevertheless, if we are to realise the aspirations embodied in the principles outlined by the president, these principles themselves must be shored up by a solid framework of national institutions that serve the common interests of all segments of the population. Bearing in mind the multidimensional nature of our development process, let us examine how this notion applies to the first condition cited by Mubarak -- the need to upgrade our productive sector.

This formidable task poses a two-fold challenge, as it entails remedying the many deficiencies in our productive system while simultaneously gearing production towards export trade. Not only must we radically restructure our manufacturing base, therefore, we must also inject it with new vigour. This can be achieved by linking production with research and development institutions, which will be allowed to explore ways of enhancing the competitiveness of Egyptian products on international markets. The production of cost-efficient, high quality, attractively packaged and appropriately priced goods is not an impossible goal as long as we are willing to contribute hard work, ingenuity and efficient organisation.

Improving Egypt's export trade is a matter of life and death, as Mubarak has said on numerous occasions. It is the only way to offset the enormous deficit in our balance of trade, alleviate the pressures on the Egyptian pound, attune Egyptian industry to demand on international markets and thereby generate industrial expansion, create more jobs and raise standards of living.

Our balance of trade showed an $8 billion deficit for the first eight months of this year. This fact alone should drive home the urgent need for a radical solution to our export problem. True, all indicators suggest that the deficit will decline towards the end of the year due to rising petroleum prices and increased revenue from tourism. That is no reason to become complacent. More importantly, a healthy export trade provides long-range protection against future budgetary deficits. It also represents a certificate of excellence that stimulates the ambition to excel.

We can readily understand the urgency behind President Mubarak's invitation to the government to devise a working plan for removing the impediments to export trade, covering everything from production and marketing strategies to developing the services and facilities provided in Egyptian ports. We can also understand the president's appeal to the People's Assembly to pass the necessary legislation towards this end within a year -- ample leeway, given a healthy spirit of cooperation.

Also high on the president's agenda for the nation is technological development, which feeds into all areas of development. The National Programme for Technological Development, which the president called for in September, aims to put sophisticated technological applications in the service of the various productive and service sectors and, simultaneously, to establish Egypt as a producer of such applications. The programme also seeks to enhance public awareness of the importance of advanced technology, which has become an indispensable prerequisite for progress. If we are to succeed in this vital challenge, we must channel all our resources toward the development of a dynamic institutional foundation backed by appropriate legislation and a developed infrastructure. At the same time, we must keep our sights firmly focused on the ultimate aim of all progress, which is to secure every Egyptian's right to a dignified life.

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