Egypt, led by Egyptians, is today at a very special juncture. Egyptians have a remarkable opportunity to shape a new and better destiny for their country. And the rare combination of both willingness and ability comes wrapped in a new sense of purpose, energy and engagement on the direction of the country.
Owing to the tremendous sacrifices of its many heroes, Egypt is in the midst of a revolution–a truly transformational moment in a history that goes back over seven millennia. We thank all those that bravely took to the street, forming a movement that helped all Egyptians overcome decades of fear. In the process, they united Egyptians of all ages, social classes, and religions around a simple aspiration of a better tomorrow.
To quote from a song that has been played many times in our home and at presentations that I have made in the United States on the Egyptian revolution, Sout El-Horreya (Voice of Freedom), sung by Hany Adel and Amir Eid: “Our dreams were our weapon... all barriers have been shattered.”
But most revolutions are not discrete events; they are transformational processes. They are seldom easy; they can take many months and years. The first, most visible part of a successful revolution–that of overthrowing a regime–is often a necessary condition for a successful revolution. But this huge and courageous step alone is not sufficient. It improves the probability of achieving the objective of the revolution-that of a better society for all of Egypt–but it does not guarantee success.
In today’s Egypt, the required transformations involve challenges that cut across politics, economics and finance. They have important social and geopolitical dimensions. And they operate in fluid regional and global contexts. And they will not happen without continued steadfast commitment.
Each of these realities is extremely complex.
Think about the challenges inherent in altering the structure of an economy so that it can deliver in a decisive and lasting manner the combination of more inclusive economic growth, greater poverty alleviation, improved international competitiveness, and low inflation.
Think of the importance of reaching the most vulnerable segments of the population in a timely manner–providing better access to education, health, nutrition and other essential social services.
Think of the challenges of keeping the country’s finances in order at a time of reduced tourist receipts, lower remittances from workers in Libya and elsewhere, and high food and commodity prices in international markets.
Think of the challenges of constructing an open and transparent political process after many decades of repression, suppression, and too much control by too few.
And think of the importance of institutions. As Jean Monnet, the famous French father of European unity, observed: “Nothing is possible without men and women, but nothing is lasting without institutions.” Egypt today faces the complex challenges of quickly adapting and building institutions that are credible and efficient.
None of these are easy, and the significant degree of difficulty compounds quickly when the challenges interact, as is the case in Egypt today. It is tempting for a nation and for a society to feel overwhelmed by all this. Today’s Egypt should not. These are all surmountable challenges, especially if the country retains its unity, commonality of purpose, and purity of aspiration.
Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear all the stories of Egyptians volunteering to make a difference in a village, in a slum, in a school that has insufficient books, and in a hospital overwhelmed by patients. Just a few months into Egypt’s revolution, we see concrete changes on the ground. And it is not just about new political parties, broad-based national debates, and a more generalized sense of empowerment to influence the country’s outlook. It is also about multiple daily wins.
It is about young volunteers adopting villages and neighborhoods to help make a difference on the ground. It is about individual Egyptians, like Wael Ghonim, setting up NGOs to improve the future of other Egyptians families. And it is about true visionaries, such as Ahmed Zewail, who is inspiring and leading a national project to help Egyptian society attain the scientific and technological advancements that are so essential to sustain growth, poverty alleviation and employment creation in today’s rapidly changing global economy.
A lot is already being done. And a lot, lot more will need to be done. Please continue to make sure that the beautiful voice of freedom continues to ring in every corner of Egypt.
Mohamed A. El-Erian is the chief executive officer of PIMCO, a global investment management firm based in Newport Beach, California. This essay is adapted from his commencement address at the American University in Cairo on June 16, 2011.