Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Beyond geography and history

Egypt in the last year has begun to revitalise itself and its vision, but great leadership at the top has to be matched by great leadership at all levels, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

In spite of the strains and difficulties that the Egyptian people are enduring at this time, we have some good reasons to take heart. Firstly, we have been proven correct to have kicked the Muslim Brotherhood out of power. The whole region screams the reality that this organisation is the first degree in the scale of fanaticism and extremism after which follows the decent to various degrees of violence that pass through Al-Qaeda and culminate in ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).
Secondly, it has been established beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were right to have engaged in the battle against the Muslim Brotherhood after their fall and against all those who allied with them and that spread their poison from the podium at Rabaa Al-Adawiya. We endured the months of curfew followed by the months of power shortages, but we still had the courage to withstand the reductions in subsidies.

It has been demonstrated, thirdly, that Egypt, even at its weakest moments, is still a force that attracts others to rely on its capacities and potential. Our fellow Arabs in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan are doing so. They are currently engaged in a war against ISIS and they know that they can count on Egypt, which opened the first front against terrorism.
Fourthly, it is well known that in politics, sometimes — in fact quite often — there is a lot of grinding with nothing in the mill to grind; a lot of noise without music, a lot of hollow words with no rhyme or reason. Such was the case on whether 30 June 2013 was a revolution or a coup, whether the steps taken on 3 July were necessary, whether or not the breakup of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins were features of the presence of the Egyptian state or, more directly put, whether Egypt had become a “military state” or would be a “state for all Egyptians”.
These questions are all settled now. The recent events in New York, where President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi attended the UN General Assembly sessions, constituted universal recognition that we were right in the choices we made while all of those choices were very difficult. Even the Turks have finally come around and want to mend fences. The Qataris have finally gotten around to do what they should have done ages ago, namely to remove the Muslim Brothers from their country. All the Europeans are keen to speak with Al-Sisi. Obama is ready to enter into an alliance with him against the international terrorism that Egypt has warned about repeatedly. And, as a down payment on the new friendship, the delayed fighter planes are due to arrive in Cairo soon, to be followed by the symbolic return of aid. I will also take this opportunity to predict that the IMF will come to Cairo to offer it whatever it wishes and I would not be surprised if Cairo refuses.
The foregoing did not happen out of the blue or without cost. We have gone through some difficult times and experienced moments of deep sadness. Some of us were certain that a third revolution (or a fourth, depending on how you count) would come. The infatuation with chaos and professionalising revolution seemed to make this a latest Egyptian fad. But that third (or fourth) revolution did not occur. The steps of the post-3 July roadmap followed one after the other, Egypt emerged from the curfew and even if it had not emerged from the danger zone it learned how to accommodate even as it fought the threat. However, the most important step it took was to begin reconstruction. This was the cornerstone for all the developments discussed above.
Revolution or revolution on top of revolution is no long the crucial question in Egypt. Rather, what is of essence is to change Egypt in a way that takes it from the world of developing nations and leads it to the world of advanced nations through the application of a new and unfamiliar concept of geography and history.  Our outlook used to be derived from the views of the famous geographer and historian Gamal Hamdan, which were espoused by Egyptian Arab nationalists, and the Nasserists in particular, and which held that geography and history combined to impose on Egypt an inescapable strategic reality that conferred both rights and duties. Today, Egyptian geography and history, without refuting the foregoing, have acquired more profound meanings, especially from the strategic perspective, not in terms of the requirements for war and peace but rather the requirements for development and progress. In this new concept, Egypt is far bigger than the Nile Valley; it is the entire country from the river to the sea. It not just an African nation, but it is also an Asian one par excellence. It is certainly not a bridge for crossing from one continent to the next. Rather it is a link made up of demographic, productive and civilisational interconnections and interactions of every type.

We have reason to take heart not just because of our new leadership but also because Egypt has begun to speak in a language that it had not spoken and that the world had not heard it speak for a long time. The Suez Canal project is not just a developmental project. It is a message to the world that we want to serve international trade by making it possible for many more ships to pass through it, and much more quickly than in the past. The development of Sinai through land reclamation, the development of the Red Sea coast by means of extensions through the Upper Egyptian governorates, and the development of the northern coast through extensions from the Delta governments means that we are altering Egyptian geography and reconnecting Egyptians with the world.
In a sense, this is a kind of return to ancient Egyptian history when Naqada, Assiut, Al-Badari, Qeft, Malawi and Abydos served as communication hubs between the oases, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Egypt had its African dimensions, its Semitic (Arab) dimensions and its Mediterranean dimensions as shaped by its relations and links with Greece and then Rome. I do not want to let my enthusiasm carry me away; time has brought many disappointments. However, what we have done in a little over a year has given us impetus and we have to know how to capitalise on it. Yet, this is where our weak points immediately begin to surface and where we find the secret behind our setbacks and failures during the past two centuries.
Actually, there is no one reason for failing. We have discussed them before, but this time we will be focussing on the human resources, in quantity and quality, that we possess. With all my due respect to our 90 million Egyptians, they do not have the levels of education, training and skills that are consistent with our new concept of geography and history. Perhaps one of our greatest problems is not with demographic growth in general, but with that stratum charged with managing the Egyptian state, and I refer to the leaderships in particular.
Perhaps this should be our starting point. When Mohamed Ali Pasha began his project to modernise Egypt, he sent 335 Egyptians (from Al-Azhar, by the way) on educational missions to Europe so that on their return they could lead, depending on their field of specialisation, a large sector in education, finance, customs, railroad, irrigation, museums, archaeology and other disciplines. In a previous article, I mentioned that state of “bafflement” that overcomes newly appointed governorate heads who desperately seek to obtain a copy of one of those pamphlets we produced in Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies on each governorate so that they can get an idea of the governorate they are about to take charge of. I have also mentioned that there are two resources that the leaderships can turn to: the private sector and Egyptians abroad. However, these are far from sufficient in light of the ambitions and hopes that we want to fulfil in a relatively short timeframe.
By the way, what we are doing or trying to do today has been done by many other countries before us. While it took some countries (Britain, for example) a century to double its GDP it took others (the US) 50 years to reach the same target. That period gradually shortened to 10 years in the case of the “Asian Tigers” (Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong), then to five years with the “Asian Panthers”, and then to three years with Vietnam and Brazil. As these experiences tell us, what people need in order to double their income is hard work and a wise leadership capable of turning dreams into visions, visions into strategies, strategies into feasible plans, and feasible plans into action. But for leaderships like that, we need a mechanism for choosing, selecting, or bringing forward people who are not only reliable and have the knowhow and expertise but, also and more importantly, who have the capacity to lead and inspire. Without such leaders, history and geography will remain in place or undergo the same cycles Egypt has experienced for the past 3,000 years.

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