Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Bottom line: Political reform

Experts say that postponing political reform will further delay much-needed economic development, reports Niveen Wahish

Al-Ahram Weekly

Over the past two years many voices have called for the postponement of political reforms in order to enable the stronger implementation of the rules and regulations needed to provide security and enable economic development.

They say that allowing multiple voices to have their say creates divisions and stalls decision-making. Economists, speaking at a recent meeting organised by the Economic Research Forum (ERF), a regional research network, say this argument is flawed. The meeting, entitled “Between Political Reform and Economic Development: Egypt the Future, 2015,” was part of a national dialogue series organised by the ERF.

“Real economic development cannot be achieved in the absence of political reform,” former minister of international cooperation Ziad Bahaa Al-Din told the attendees. He added that a healthy political environment is necessary because it makes economic decision-making more efficient and provides for various perspectives on any issue.

In addition, it makes economic decisions fairer. Without political participation, with all stakeholders having a say, fair decisions are hard to come by, he said. Moreover, it makes economic decisions less corrupt because they are scrutinised and there are mechanisms for implementation and follow-up.

Political participation, Bahaa Al-Din said, allows for a greater degree of understanding of decisions among the public, which makes them easier to implement. It also allows for greater chances of correction. Decisions may be taken that are in need of correction, and it is these corrective measures, fostered by political participation, that ensures the success of any system.

What needs to be done is to convince public opinion that it is not in the country’s interest to put off political reform, he said. The next parliament must function in this direction, otherwise the argument that Egypt would be better off without it might win, he added.

“The selection of alternative solutions to problems is a political decision,” Salwa Al-Antary, former director of research at the National Bank of Egypt, said in her presentation, arguing that economics cannot be separated from politics.

“There is no one solution and the alternatives are not equal,” she added, giving the example of the country’s budget deficit. While everyone agrees that the solution is to cut spending and increase revenue, where these cuts will be made or revenue will be collected is a political decision that determines who will bear the cost.

Al-Antary said that in Egypt, to achieve economic development and social justice, two conditions must be in place. First, there must be protection of competition and a fight against monopolistic practices. International reports since the mid-2000s pointed to monopolies in Egypt preventing real development, since they influence the laws to reflect their interests and take over markets to maximise their revenues, she said.

Second, Egypt must combat corruption. Al-Antary gave the example of how lengthy bureaucratic procedures and payments made above and under the table are making the costs of small businesses unbearable.

“While big producers are able to manage, smaller ones will exit the market,” she said. There is no shortage of anti-corruption legislation, but the issue needs political will to be solved. Political reform is therefore necessary to combat corruption.

Former MP Amr Al-Shobaki seconded the idea that economic and political reform cannot exist without each other. He said that recent protests against the new civil service law could be an indication of increased disagreement within the government.

That being the case, he said that any political system must have the tools to negotiate and reach compromises. “The state should deal with society as a partner,” he concluded.

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