Less than a year has passed since the Muslim Brotherhood’s complete domination of the Egyptian political scene, and they have faced the most daunting task ever to face Egypt in its long history.
Egypt, which was as of 2010 a struggling, but relatively stable, political and economic force in the Middle East, has since stumbled into what many have called an ill-timed experiment with democracy. Now crippled by a staggering economic crisis that is threatening every facet of Egyptian society, the most miniscule of problems in Egyptian society has grown into a full-fledged crisis, and putting the country in a tailspin.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that the economic impacts of the Revolution were going to take effect sooner or later, and that this impact would affect not only the liberal opposition’s ability to mount discrediting attacks on the bumbling Brotherhood, who are longing for the days when they were the opposition. Yet, there are things that I believe are very doable that can have a huge, stabilizing effect on the country, and establish a system that takes into account the people’s will and desire to express and revolt, while keeping in mind the economic concerns and political stability needed for Egypt to survive:
1) Establish a Procedure for Lawful Protest
It boggles me how this wasn’t one of the first concrete accomplishments of the revolution in the post-Mubarak era. Since the beginning of the January 25th Revolution, there have been protests on a nearly weekly basis, some more bloody than others. If we are to assume that there has been a protest on every Friday since Mubarak’s ouster on February 11th, 2011, that makes for approximately 117 protests. Again, I stress that some of these protests have seen bloodshed and fighting on an unprecedented level, causing thousands, if not millions, of dollars in property damage.
Establishing a law that regulates the procedures for lawful protests can go a long way in reducing the damage caused by these protests or, at the very least, prevent the unnecessary loss of life. This, in addition to strictly keeping the police’s role to maintaining the protesters’ security during the protests, would also give Egypt a positive revolutionary image that it began with the ouster of Mubarak two years ago.
2) Establish an Access-to-Information Law
This was actually in the works at some point during summer 2012, before the Egyptian political scene was thrown into disarray by Morsi’s election. An access to information regime is a process whereby citizens of a country can access transcripts, emails, correspondence, receipts and other supposedly “sensitive” information used by a government for their own information, while keeping in mind the importance of keeping some information secret (e.g. national security concerns). It’s an incredibly empowering tool that, when used, can allow a citizen to be actively informed about how his/her taxpayer money is being used by the government, and can help citizens make decisions on who they will vote for in the next election. There are such laws in many countries around the world, such as the US, Canada, and many Scandinavian countries (which consistently rank the highest in freedom/access to information).
The Egyptian Parliament was working on this law as late as May 2012. While it wouldn’t have resembled anything like Scandinavian legislation, it would have certainly been a step in the right direction for the Egyptian Revolution. Furthermore, it would have gone a long way in encouraging foreign investment, as corporations are the most frequent users of freedom of information legislation in countries where they exist.
3) Focus on local innovation initiatives to address Egypt’s economic concerns
To this day, I’m still amazed at the level of innovation and ingenuity that Egyptians have, despite the numerous economic difficulties facing many people. If you want to know why I am so amazed, take a look at this example:
If this is the kind of innovation one can expect from Egyptians, then why not use that innovation to come up with creative solutions for real domestic problems? One example of that is the wheat shortage that has made the Egyptian trade deficit grow exponentially in recent years. Egypt is one of the biggest wheat consumers in the world, so much that it requires a massive influx of wheat from the US and Russia to satisfy its needs (which mostly go toward a subsidized bread program with questionable quality). The solution to Egypt’s economic problems is very likely within the people’s hands and ideas, and if those ideas are developed, they could bring a low-cost, highly effective solution to a real problem.
4) Entice Egyptian Expatriates to Return to Egypt
Thanks to a series of bad publicity stunts (starting with the never-forgotten “Camel Battle” in the revolution’s early days), Egypt’s tourism economy has been hit, BAD. Recently, tourist hotspots like Luxor and Aswan have found themselves operating at only 25% capacity during their peak tourist season. Tourists are not keen to return to Egypt, and those that do are often left with a bad taste in their mouth by either seeing local merchants battling it out amongst themselves for business, or having to witness the harsher reality that the rest of the country faces.
There is a solution for this at this point in time – focus your efforts on bringing Egyptian expatriates back. Many of them still have family, friends, and property in Egypt that they want to keep an eye on, and are often enticed to return for sentimental reasons. Despite the government’s numerous shortfalls, a legitimate effort to reach out to these expatriates and an honest admission of the country’s past mistakes can at least convince those Egyptians to return to the land they love and invest in that country either through tourism or by keeping their property investments in Egypt, despite the hard economic times. Integrating those Egyptian expatriates, both through general policy initiatives and legal integration in returning to Egypt, would have an immediately noticeable economic benefit.
In my opinion, this was already started when Egyptian expatriates were allowed to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections. However, there are still concerns among Egyptian expatriates that the government is not doing enough to reach out to these expatriate communities and seek their resources and expertise in helping to rebuild Egypt. More legal integration of these expatriates to facilitate their return into their native land will go a long way in rebuilding the country.