Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The morning after

The modernisation of Egypt can only succeed if the Egyptian people as a whole have a sense of ownership in this historic endeavour, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egyptians went to the polls last week to cast their votes in the referendum on the draft constitution of 2013. According to the official results announced by the Supreme Elections Committee on 18 January, the rate of participation was 38.6 per cent — higher than the rate of participation in the referendum on the constitution of 2012. Those who took part in the 2014 referendum numbered 20,613,677 Egyptians out of 53,423,485 listed on the electoral lists. Those who said “yes” reached 19,985,389, and those who disapproved were 381,341 and the invalid votes were 246,947.
Comparing the results with those of previous referendums in the last three years, the results are better in terms of the rate of participation and the “yes” vote, but still many would have preferred a greater turnout and a larger percentage of the “yes” vote. The results show that more than half of the electorate decided not to participate. This could be ascribed to voter apathy, well known in Egypt, and — to a varying degree — disillusionment with the overall situation in the country. Maybe those who went out of their way to defend the draft constitution were also held in suspicion along the way.
Better results would have meant the existence of a large national consensus on the way forward and would have been a strong stimulus for future parliaments and governments in tackling the many grave political, economic and social challenges lying ahead.
The 2014 constitution took effect 18 January after the announcement of the official results of the constitutional referendum. It seems almost certain that presidential elections will precede parliamentary ones, contrary to what was laid out in the political roadmap of 3 July 2013. Article 230 of the new constitution establishes that the first elections (among the two) should commence in a period not earlier than one month and no later than 90 days from the date of approval of the new constitution (18 January). It also stipulates that for “all purposes” the second elections would be held not later than six months from the date of the adoption of the constitution. In other words, Egypt will have a new president, a new parliament and a new government by 18 July 2014, time to celebrate the July Revolution on 26 July 2014. It will be interesting to see how the new democratic institutions of the country and the new president will celebrate this occasion. Will there be continuity or a break with the fundamental principles of this great revolution? It will show whether Egypt will have democratic institutions by the people, for the people, and of the people.
The future of Egypt lies in the hands of the Egyptian people, for they are the ones who will choose their representatives in the new parliament, and the new president. I hope they will make the right choices, separating their religious identities and leanings from their voting behaviour. In fact, one of the crucial questions in establishing a modern state and a new democratic order in Egypt will be to redefine the place and role of religion in the public sphere. This redefinition is a condition for the progress of the country, without which it is hardly conceivable that the efforts aiming at the establishment of a true democratic system will have a chance of success.
To establish a democracy, sustainable and irreversible, calls for the presence of leaders and opinion makers who are truly democrats and understand and respect the basic rules of political compromise, the rule of law, equality of the citizenry before the law, equality of opportunities for all, and respect for human rights and public liberties. A true democracy means total respect for all these basic principles and it should not pick and choose among them. It also calls for the complete separation of powers. Future governments in Egypt should function on the basis of the theory of checks and balances.
In the years to come, we should reset our priorities, not according to our political and economic interests but based on what will be best for the country. Undoubtedly, the economy is the top priority. There are two schools of thought in Egypt in this respect. We have those who speak of the absolute necessity of macro-economic reforms, and rightly so, and those who favour jump-starting the economy as quickly as possible. In both cases, the country will need to build enough financial reserves to be in a position to tackle the two challenges. The new institutions will have to set their priorities in this respect and adopt policies that would reconcile social realities with economic conditions and reforms. It won’t be easy, but strong domestic support coupled with the return of direct foreign investment, particularly from Gulf countries, will accelerate the jumpstarting of the economy. Needless to say, dealing with the high unemployment rate should be one of the highest priorities of the next government. Furthermore, the next government should also adopt policies that work as an incentive for businesses to hire.
The newly adopted constitution, in articles 18 and 19, has set minimum percentages from the Gross Domestic Product in annual budgets for health services and education. Not less than three per cent of the GDP must be appropriated for health services (Article 18) and no less than four per cent of GDP should go to education (Article 19). Hopefully, the 2014-2015 budget will meet these goals, so that the people reap the fruits of change in their daily lives.
The modernisation of Egypt should be done not only on the macro level but also on the micro level, to borrow the concept from the field of economics. This process should centre foremost on the man on the street. If there is something we should have learned from the last 10 years, it is that high growth rates should target — socially and economically — the poor and the deprived.
The modernisation process must entail a complete overhaul of the system of governance, institution-building, socially based economic reforms, and a fair and just system to reduce the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. This persistent gap proved the undoing of the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak. If reforming the economy is a must to sustain growth in the long run, it should not be carried out at the expense of the poorer segments of the population. Prior to 2011, the Egyptian economy performed well, and the growth rate hovered around six per cent. However, the benefits had not trickled down fast enough.
The new democratic order in Egypt will not have a chance of success if not accompanied by ambitious and progressive economic and social policies that aim at the betterment of the masses. Put differently, poverty, illiteracy and disease will remain the trio that breed extremism fundamentalism, exclusion and terrorism. For democracy to thrive on the banks of the Nile the toiling masses of Egyptians should have hope and confidence in their own future and the future of their children and grandchildren. If there is nothing wrong with the rich getting richer, it should be morally unacceptable — and I would add reprehensible — that the poor man gets poorer. If the wealthy, moreover, can afford the best quality education for their children because they can afford it financially, then it is more than unjust not to offer the less-fortunate good quality education that would help them extricate their children from the vicious cycle of poverty, misery and deprivation. The country owes it to them.
Modernisation calls for a leadership that believes that Egypt must advance forward on the road of democracy and the rule of law. Egyptians should have a sense of ownership in this historic endeavour. On two previous occasions, from 1805 to 1840 and from 1956 to 1970, the modernisation process had taken place but did not last because the people were not involved in the former (the Mohamed Ali era) while in the latter institution-building and national consensus were lacking (the Gamal Abdel-Nasser era). Let us not fail the third time around. The choice is the sole responsibility of the Egyptian people. I hope they will vote for the right candidates both in the presidential as well as legislative elections.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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