Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Moving forward together

Many people will need to be recruited, to work alongside the prime minister and other agencies of the executive, if the burdens Egypt faces are to be shouldered, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week, several bombs were discovered near Orouba Palace, the Presidential Palace commonly referred to as Ittihadiya, even though the “federation” that existed for a brief time between Egypt and Syria broke up four decades ago. Those bombs constituted a direct attack on the centre of power in Egypt, the seat of the new president around whom the masses of the Egyptian people rallied with a unanimity unmatched by any other political leader for a long time. But this question, in its entirety, is part of a gruelling war that is raging across the region from Pakistan in the east to Morocco in the west, and from Kenya in the south to Turkey in the north.

On one side of this war stands the state, with its institutions, legal and constitutional systems, government authorities and civil society, and economic relations, all of which seek to promote the progress of the country and to overcome security and economic challenges. On the other side are groups that coalesce around a broad base of the ideas, beliefs and dreams of the Muslim Brotherhood and upon which a base arose a pyramid of militant “Islamist” and “jihadist” groups at the peak of which we find suicide bombers who seek nothing else but to kill. All of these groups hark back to a distant time in the past that they long to bring to life again and plant in the soil of the 21st century. A few days ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) proclaimed the resurrection of the Islamic caliphate with Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the caliph and “leader of the faithful”. The so-called “Islamic State in Pakistan” declared its allegiance to the new caliph amidst a fanfare of drums celebrating the rebirth of a bygone era.

The battle in Egypt is part of that broader whole. However, the significance of the Egyptian battle is that it gave birth to the beginning of the decline and eventual defeat of the project to revive the past after having destroyed all forms of civilisation, leaving only terrorism, violence, ignorance, backwardness and hatred against the entire world. Egypt’s is also the battle upon which the end of this great war is contingent. Just as the events of 30 June last year swept the rug from under all terrorist religious political groups, the effects of that revolution extended to many other places in the world. What we are seeing today is, actually, a counter attack aimed at recapturing ground in Egypt and reinforcing the offensive by seizing control of other parts of the region and the world. However broad and violent this counterattack is, it will fail. There are many reasons why it will fail, but suffice it to say here that the Egyptian ability to resist and confront that offensive will be a determinant factor. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the bombs that were planted infront of the Presidential Palace pointed to the place upon which rests the potential for winning this historic battle.

The question of how to manage this battle at the regional level may require a separate article, but what is of concern here is that the cornerstone of the process is in Egypt. There is nothing in the literature of the science of strategy that suggests any other route to victory apart from the need to retain the initiative and to stay “ahead of the curve”, instead of struggling to remain afloat after the nasty waves hit us. The crucial question is not so much whether we begin work at seven or even five, after morning prayers, but what we do after we get to work and the extent to which we use every available hour and minute in order to stay ahead of the challenges we face or to pre-empt the enemies who plant bombs around us.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has only been in power for a few weeks and days. During this brief time ideas have been proposed, initiatives launched, a cabinet formed, Egypt was welcomed back to the African Union and the doors to hopefully fruitful negotiations with Ethiopia have been reopened. As important as all these steps and actions are, they do not appear to be bound together by a broader strategic vision. Also, there is some question as to the matter of efficacy and sustainability in the direction of the desired change. For example, the action that was taken to clear pavements and streets of those vendors who had steadily taken them over during the past three years did not prevent them from returning and reoccupying the streets. One imagines that the process could be repeated until the government finally gives up. The new cabinet is a continuation of its predecessor. In effect, this was a waste of the opportunity for it to become a translation of the president’s electoral platform or, conversely, for the points on that platform to have people responsible for carrying them out. Who will carry out the tasks relevant to the development of Sinai or to putting our new governorates on the track to progress and altering the map of Egypt? Who will do the work necessary to attract investment from home and abroad?

With all due respect to cabinet members and the prime minister, essentially it is a business as usual cabinet, albeit with some greater efficacy. The dispute with regard to the national budget allocation was revealing. The cabinet drew up a budget that would have created an unprecedented hike in the national deficit. The bill was returned to cabinet with instructions to reduce the deficit to the level established under the government of Hazem Al-Beblawi (10 per cent of GDP). This took considerable courage since it entails grappling with the problem of subsidies face on, as opposed to the avoidance tactic that has been the preferred approach to the question of subsidies during the past decades. Nevertheless, it is still not enough. The answer so far was to cut back subsidies, increase taxes and place a higher burden on businessmen. These actions need to be complimented by a package of measures that stimulates investment in ways that create jobs for the poor and that simultaneously offer the wealthy greater opportunities to work and invest at home, rather than abroad. Such an investment incentive package should be the task at hand from the early morning hours. We need to study all the assets Egypt has available in terms of land, money and labour and to give these the chance to generate a new dynamic for capital accumulation that had not been there before. Simply put, the question is not to levy new taxes on what already existed but to levy new taxes on new investments.

The task ahead is difficult, multifaceted and onerous. It cannot be handled by the resolve, determination and ability of the president alone. Many people will need to be recruited in order to shoulder the burden together with the prime minister and other agencies of the executive. For example, it is not clear why the president should undertake the task of appointing university presidents or whether he can succeed in this when relying on reports that come mostly from security agencies. In fact, where in the “respectable” world does one find state-appointed university heads or faculty deans? If we are to continue with that route, should we extend it to hospital directors and commanders of military battalions?

The fact is that, apart from relevant technical expertise, the crucial criteria for such positions are intelligence, professionalism and leadership skills, and the criteria for judging these are knowledge, competence and achievement. It seems therefore that what the president needs is not to appoint the heads of “independent” universities but rather to develop a concept for electing a board of directors of each university. The chief function of that board would be to plan for the future of that university, but it would also elect the university president, most probably from outside the university itself. Perhaps one of the first items on the agenda of that board would be to decide whether to retain their status as “government universities”, a system found nowhere else but in the Third World, or to split up the university into smaller universities modelled on the lines of the private Egyptian universities that have the capacity to produce graduates who can actually find work in the job market.

We should perhaps leave this subject to another time as there is another more important matter, which is that the many and multifaceted issues that the president has to deal with, from bombs planted near the walls of the Presidential Palace to the appointment of new governors and leaders for the initiatives and projects he outlined during his electoral campaign, need a mechanism, inside the Orouba Palace, capable of steering the battle, not just against terrorism, but against backwardness as a whole. As one of the chief curses of backwardness is that its problems and dilemmas remain forever unsolved, we should see everything we need to deal with not as a series of separate battles but as part of a single war and a single theatre of operations. The arena may expand or contract, but everything in it is interrelated. It is perhaps natural that our officials will try to shoulder all the burdens. However, just as Egypt, whose people are multiplying every day, generates many problems, it also houses abundant wealth, ingenuity and talent.

As for the president’s job, it is “to hit the ground running”, as they say in the commandos. Or, otherwise put, it is to keep the nation, as a whole, ahead of the curve and ready to handle treacherous waves.

add comment

  • follow us on