Egyptian stock market, Cairo, March 23, 2011. Mohamed Omar/EPA/Corbis
I too wish to
see all this happen and happen very quickly in the context of a vibrant and
inclusive post-revolutionary Egypt. And, like many others, I worry that the
longer it takes to materialize, the higher the risk that the revolution may
fall victim to narrow vested interests, thus undermining one of the most
inspirational and impressive popular uprisings in history.
challenge for Egyptian society is to reconcile these genuine feelings and
legitimate aspirations with the post-revolutionary realities on the ground and,
more broadly, in the global economy. This requires four conditions to be met: a
better all-around understanding of Egypt’s transition and the historic pivots
facing the country; a clearer vision of the country’s medium-term economic
destination; immediate steps to restore the country’s growth and employment
engines and to stabilize its finances; and steady progress in the multi-year
efforts to establish strong, more transparent, and highly accountable institutions.
an impressive popular uprising and the remarkable overthrow of President
Mubarak, Egypt has faced difficulties in transitioning to the next phase of
historic revolutionary change—namely, pivoting from dismantling the past to the
even more challenging phase of putting in place sustainable drivers of a better
While both disappointing and frustrating, these
difficulties should not come as a great surprise, judging from the experience
of many other major revolutionary movements. Indeed, history reminds us that
the process of positive change takes time and effort, especially as countries
and societies emerge from repressive regimes that co-opted both public and
private institutions, distorted resource allocation, and removed accountability
It is not easy to instantaneously set up institutions that
are both credible and effective—especially if the effort de facto starts from scratch. Strong political leadership is
required, one that is able and willing to secure legitimate broad-based
support. And the population must buy into a medium-term vision that,
preferably, also includes some early and visible wins.
immediate aftermath of overthrowing President Mubarak, Egypt faced these
challenges in droves. Years of repressive governance sucked awareness,
responsiveness, and inclusiveness out of the country’s key institutions.
Post-revolutionary political leaderships—on a standalone manner and in what was
feasible collaboratively—did not have the organization and standing to, using
the famous South African example of Nelson Mandela, urge citizens to move
forward by “forgiving but not forgetting the past.” And the population
experienced few early gains beyond the greater ability for self-expression and
freer organization—a critical step, but one that does not feed stomachs or
provide greater assurances about future wellbeing.
Post-revolutionary Egypt was also encumbered by the
circumstances of entities looking to fill new political vacuums. For example,
aspirants started with very different initial conditions with respect to
networks and coordination—from the grassroots organization of the Muslim
Brotherhood and the traditional dominance of the armed forces to the scramble
among new youth and secular movements to organize into effective political
parties. Many also questioned the extent to which, after having served an
important transitional role, the armed forces would go back to the barracks—and
under what conditions.
relatively peaceful revolution would not have materialized without the
decisions taken by the armed forces in the initial phases. These decisions
earned them respect and admiration among citizens from all socio-economic
backgrounds, religions, and ages—and rightly so. Yet the longer the bumpy and
uncertain transition persisted under the rule of the Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces, the greater the questions that arose about the armed forces’
ultimate objectives and political aspirations.
these differences in “initial conditions” inevitably contributed to an uneven
playing field—in both reality and perception—for the range of political forces
competing for influence in the new Egypt. As such, the format and timing of
every important political step involved distinct winners and losers. And with
that, suspicions inescapably arise. And all this made the critical historic
transition and pivots even more challenging
Then, there are the everyday realities of the economic
and financial dislocations. Many months after the overthrow of President
Mubarak, Egypt still lacked a properly functioning economy and strong finances.
Production and income generation remained well below the nation’s potential—let
alone what is required to address the acute problems of poverty and
unemployment. Domestic and foreign investments slumped thus withdrawing even
more oxygen from the economy, the recovery of tourism was painfully slow, and
the risk of disruptive capital flight remained uncomfortably high.
high income and wealth inequality, Egypt’s poor economic conditions quickly
translated into worrisome social problems—and this at a time when already
millions of citizens were poor and had no financial cushions to speak of (of
their own or through government-supplied safety nets).
we must not forget the current highly unsettled global environment. Europe’s
deepening debt crisis, along with America’s sluggish economic growth,
translates into even less trade and tourism for Egypt. Growth also slowed in
systemically important emerging countries, such as Brazil, China, and India.
All this makes it more difficult for Egypt to export, and to attract external
aid and secure the debt forgiveness needed to provide the country with
financial breathing space.
These are all legitimate reasons why the revolution had
and is having difficulties moving from the overthrow of former President
Mubarak to the creation of an inclusive future for the many. And, inescapably,
this fuels concerns that the revolution could be hijacked and/or derailed.
there are reasons to remain hopeful. And this starts with the recognition that
Egypt has embarked on a multi-year process that less than two years ago was
deemed improbable if not unthinkable.
not just a multi-year process. It is also a multi-staged and multi-faceted one
that involves individual and collective learning and adaptation.
from its important attributes and areas of agility, Egypt will continue to move
forward. Yes, it will be bumpy, uneven, and at times even messy. But good
governance will steadily increase. Better institutions will continue to emerge.
New networks and organizations will form. Alliances will be established and
re-established. And the economic and financial situation will improve.
this takes us to the four major conditions that could facilitate the quicker
emergence of a stable destination for the country, and help avoid some of the
potholes in the journey.
First, it is critical for the political process to be
more open with the population about the challenges of Egypt’s historic
transition. Understandably, all political forces are eager to use the excesses
of the past to legitimize their claim for influence and power in the new Egypt.
They must also be open about the real challenges of the immediate future,
through continuous and frank communication and a better assessment of the
Second, political leaderships have an obligation to set
out a concrete and realistic economic vision for the next three to five years.
And this goes well beyond slogans that no reasonable person can disagree with.
It is also about a detailed and coherent medium-term plan that specifically
answers questions such as: How many jobs can and will be created? How quickly
will the internal financial situation stabilize? How effectively can public
spending be oriented to provide better services and support for the many (as
opposed to the few)? What does subsidy reform look like? What is the role of
external donors and creditors?
Third, Egypt must take immediate steps to stabilize its
economic and financial situation. Key impediments to regaining
pre-revolutionary production and employment levels must and can be removed.
Legal and operational uncertainties, many of which have been associated with
the abuse of existing procedures, should and can be minimized. Also, and
notwithstanding the admirable and correct aspiration for self-reliance, the
country needs to consider whether and how to quickly mobilize sufficient
external financing on appropriate terms.
Finally, none of this will be fully effective without properly
functioning institutions that are legitimate and accountable. This is the only
way to create a durable counter against the corruption that, for so many years,
has eaten away at the integrity and vibrancy of Egypt—as well as at its
international standing and reputation.
bumpy start, the country has recorded some important gains in this respect,
starting with the holding of relatively free and fair elections, including one
for Egypt’s first civilian president. This must and can be used as a building
block for reforming moribund institutions of state, as well as those that were
co-opted by privileged minority interests.
not an easy list of tasks. Will it prove too demanding for an Egyptian society
that was repressed for so long and functions in an increasingly unstable global
certainly a risk, and one that must be managed carefully especially in light of
the country’s initial economic, financial, political, and social conditions. I
strongly believe that Egypt has both the ability and willingness to move
forward and realize the objectives of the revolution.
this not in a naïve and idealistic fashion but as an individual who, through
both personal experiences and a professional career, has been exposed to change
in countries around the world. Observing closely the developments in Egypt, I
cannot but be impressed by the multitude of people who feel—and strongly
believe—that finally they now “own” their country.
We see this admirable trait in the robustness of
political discourse, and in the willingness to get involved. We also see it in
the sprouting of civic engagement and volunteerism all over this proud country.
Many Egyptians citizens, and the youth in particular, also
feel that after many decades, they again have a legitimate and effective claim
on the street. They have the organizational ability to maintain it and the
inspirational drive to persevere.
That alone will provide a set of checks and
balances that pre-revolutionary Egypt sorely lacked. And while it is not a
guarantee of a specific outcome in a precise timeframe, it is an important
pushback against the minority of vested interests that seeks to disrupt a
revolution that has rightly earned the admiration and respect of millions
around the world.