Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Future challenges and opportunities

The success of the Sharm El-Sheikh economic conference is a vindication and a turning point that should be met with real follow through, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Economic Development Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, 13-15 March, was attended by 30 heads of states and representatives of 25 international and regional organisations, plus 2,500 participants from around the world. It was a show of solidarity after four years of political instability.

Prominent among the heads of states were the Kuwaiti emir, the kings of Bahrain and Jordan, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai, and the prime minister of Algeria.

The West was represented by senior officials and dignitaries. Among those present were US Secretary of State John Kerry, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mongheri, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

From Africa, participants included the presidents of Mali and Rwanda and the prime minister of Ethiopia. Not less than 100 countries, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, sent deputy prime ministers or ministers.

The large and high-level participation has spoken volumes about the centrality of Egypt in the Middle East, the Arab world, the Islamic world and the developing world in general. The world has sent a clear and unambiguous message that the future of Egypt matters not only for the sake of its people, but also for the future stability and prosperity of the Middle East, the Mediterranean region, the Arab world, Muslim countries and developing countries.

The resounding success of the Sharm El-Sheikh conference testifies to the fact that the international community stands by Egypt in its fight against extremism and terrorism.

Two months ago, the Egyptian president delivered a speech about the need to introduce revolutionary changes in the interpretation of Islamic religious discourse. Present to hear his words were the sheikh of Al-Azhar and other religious dignitaries from internationally renowned Islamic institutions. The speech catapulted President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the fore of the fight against extremism and terrorism in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The importance of this speech was amplified after the Paris attacks against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, earning the Egyptian president high marks in statesmanship and courage in times of uncertainty.

Kerry touched on this point when he delivered his speech at the opening session in Sharm El-Sheikh. “At this conference we stand in direct contradiction to the nihilism that [the extremists and terrorists] present,” he said. “They want to destroy and go back in time. We want to build and go to the future, and that’s what this conference is all about. And no political philosophy, no ideology, no politics, and certainly no religion, can excuse the grotesque, unbelievable descent into chaos that those extremists are willing to provoke.”

In his opening address to the conference, President Al-Sisi spoke of the role Egypt has been playing to fight extremism and terrorism, and stressed that this is being carried out in the context of a sense of belonging to the Arab-Islamic civilisation.

The president, after laying out the main elements of an ambitious economic agenda to spur growth and achieve social justice, so that all Egyptians can have a fair share in national wealth, spoke of establishing a modern state based on due process and equality.

Reviewing the various remarks by the distinguished guests at the opening session, some observations are worth noting. The common denominator was a future Egypt as a model of economic prosperity and stability in the region.

Second, a link was made between the security and stability of Egypt and the security and economic wellbeing of the Arab world. There was consensus on the importance of maintaining the thrust and pace of economic reforms, to continue turning the country into an investment-friendly destination.

In his opening address, the Egyptian president explained the new laws and regulations that came into force in the weeks before the conference. While President Al-Sisi stressed the economic and investment aspects of his policies, he did not touch on political questions, save his reference to fighting extremism and establishing a modern state.

It was no surprise that Kerry said, “There is absolutely no question that the emergence of a strong, prosperous, democratic Egypt is critical for the development of a strong and prosperous region.”

He continued, “We all ... have a stake in Egypt’s success, and ... the Middle East needs to see that what Egyptians struggled to achieve in 2011 was the real birth of opportunity and not an illusion.”

Kerry also made a link between economic advancement and more freedoms and openness of governance in the country. “Economic growth and political development go hand in hand, and that is how you build a strong society,” he said. “Economic growth, widely shared, can help ease any disagreements that characterise the openness of governance.”

At Kerry’s Saturday press conference, an Egyptian journalist asked whether the US administration has changed its position on political developments in Egypt after 30 June 2013. Kerry said he “was very clear about [American] hopes for Egypt to move down the road of the democratic process, to continue to make progress in its internal relationship with the people of Egypt.”

He added: “What I expressed yesterday was our commitment to the continued steps towards a full democratic process, a respect for [freedom] of speech.”

The message from Washington could not be clearer. It is interesting to note that in all the remarks that Kerry made during his three-day stay in Sharm El-Sheikh there was never a reference to 30 June the popular uprising against the despotic Muslim Brotherhood rule.

Needless to say, the results of the conference surprised even the most optimistic in Egypt. It was an endorsement much needed, I have to admit of Egypt as a whole.

The conference should be seen as a golden opportunity to resolutely move ahead towards achieving good governance in Egypt while working to boost economic growth and ensure a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth among Egyptians.

Good governance means more democracy, more respect for human rights, fighting corruption, the rule of law, transparency and accountability. Good governance should be our roadmap for establishing a modern and democratic state. No economic growth and prosperity will be attained in its absence.

The Sharm El-Sheikh conference heralds both opportunities and challenges. Future generations will judge whether we made the most of it, or if we missed our date with destiny.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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