Pragmatism will only lead Egypt to failure
Mohamed Morsi was sworn in as the president of Egypt on the Saturday 30th June 2012. This was a unique moment in the recent history of Egypt for a number of reasons. Firstly President Morsi was elected by the people, something none of his predecessors can claim. He is also the first civilian leader in the country’s recent history. His former party the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been working for change for over eight decades, Mohamed Morsi has now been president for two months of arguably one of the most influential and powerful countries in the region if not the Muslim world.
Both Mohamed Morsi and the MB now come face-to-face with the real-world challenges faced by any head of state. As the dust settles on Morsi’s inauguration he and the MB have been charting a way forward for the nation which suffered from decades of economic mismanagement, poverty, crippling infrastructure and rampant corruption.
It has been unfortunate that much of the Muslim brotherhoods Islamic statements and Islamic promises are being eroded one by one. After 2 months in power the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has cited constitutional barriers and the need to keep minorities onside with regards to implementing Islam. When it comes to applying Islamic economics, the need to avoid scaring international investors and tourists has been quoted. When it comes to applying the Islamic foreign policy, the need to show a moderate image and to appease the West has been the order of the day.
On the 22 August 2012 at a news conference following meetings with Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, it was confirmed the Egyptian government is pursuing a loan from the IMF.
The way forward
The biggest challenge facing President Morsi and the MB is the economy. Today Egypt has an economy worth $168 billion, almost entirely driven by agriculture, media, petroleum exports and tourism. Its services industry constitutes 49% of the economy.
The problem with the Egyptian economy is the fact that an elite few control it. When elites control an economy, they use their power to create monopolies and block the entry of new people and firms. This is how Egypt operated for three decades under Hosni Mubarak. The government and military own vast swaths of the economy- by some estimates as much as 40%. Even when they did “liberalize,” they privatized large parts of the economy right into the hands of Mubarak’s friends and those of his son Gamal. Big businessmen close to the regime, such as Ahmed Ezz (iron and steel), the Sawiris family (multimedia, beverages, and telecommunications), and Mohamed Nosseir (beverages and telecommunications) received not only protection from the state but also government contracts and large bank loans. Together, these big businessmen their stranglehold on the economy created astronomical profits for regime insiders, but blocked opportunities for the vast mass of Egyptians to move out of poverty. Meanwhile, the Mubarak family accumulated a vast fortune estimated as high as $70 billion.
Egypt’s economy needs to be restructured away from services and towards agriculture and industry. This will make the nation self-sufficient, remove foreign dependency, create jobs and stimulate the wider economy. In order to achieve this, the following plans can and should be pursued:
- The government in Egypt spends more than 60% of the revenue it collects in debt repayments. This amounts to over 120 billion Egyptian pounds annually. This government expenditure needs to be removed, eliminating illegal expenditure such as interest debt repayments and focussing the remaining funds on the critical needs of the country. A significant burden on government resources would be removed immediately by the cessation of payments on interest based loans.
- The Shari’ah makes it illegal for an individual or company or group of companies to seek to corner the market in a product and then use this position to inflate prices. The Morsi government should investigate and prosecute those attempting to monopolise the market and break up existing monopolies.
- Agriculture should be mechanized. Egypt has over 3 million hectares of arable land, which is more than enough to supply Egypt’s population given the appropriate high yield technology. This will also bring in significant taxes for central government.
- In modern times, Egypt shifted its agricultural base to produce cotton, a crop whose demand for high temperatures, solar input and water supplies are uniquely suited to Egypt. Cotton supplied the country with additional income streams, but at a huge cost: Every hectare of land that is dedicated to cotton is one not dedicated to Wheat. As cotton output increased, Egypt imported more and more food. Today roughly 60% of the country’s wheat requirements are imported. Feeding the domestic population rather than exporting should be Morsi’s number one aim.
- Egypt has around 4.4 billion barrels of proven oil reserves coupled with 2.1 trillion cubic metres of proven gas reserves. This should be used to kick start an industrial drive.
- Egypt’s geography is unique in that all its population live in only 30,000 sq km out of 1 million sq km. This population, due to the climate live in a strip running down the centre of the country. Further cities should be constructed on the coast with the Red Sea, this will lead to a construction boom and stimulate numerous related industries. These coastal towns should be linked from a transport perspective with the river Nile thus linking the whole nation together. This will then allow the nation to look for off-shore oil and gas in the Red Sea and will also link it to international sea lanes. All of this will create jobs and led to economic growth.
- Islam’s economic distributive model rather than the Western capitalist free market should be implemented straight away. This will mean wealth distribution rather than economic growth will be the priority. Islam achieves this by removing all obstacles to wealth distribution such as interest, reducing taxes down to a few, the implementation of the gold standard and the removal of speculative financial markets.
President Morsi should immediately work to reunify both Libya and Sudan who Egypt shares borders with. Libya since the fall of Gaddafi has turned into a battlefield between competing tribes, clans and militias. The west abandoned the country after the removal of Gaddafi like it abandoned Afghanistan after the soviet occupation ended. Many from Libya called for Egyptian intervention during the uprising against Gaddafi. With the size of the Egyptian army this is easily achievable and will allow for synergies as Egypt can provide food and agriculture to Libya, which it has a shortage of, whilst Libya can provide Egypt with energy, which Libya has immense reserves of. Sudan and Egypt were once one nation until the destruction of the Khilafah and has ever since been the battleground between western powers. Western powers have been able to use the weak central governments neglect of its people to interfere which ultimately led to the creation of South Sudan
The Deen is naseehah (advice), as was outlined by the Prophet (saw):
“The deen is naseehah,” the people asked to whom, the prophet (saw) replied; “to allah and to his book, to his messenger and the leaders of the ummah and to the people.” Buhkhari.
If there is any advice one can give the MB and President Morsi, it is to stop operating from position of weakness. The MB have a clear mandate from the people, hold a majority in parliament and their candidate holds the most powerful executive position in the land. If ever there was a time to take the country in a new direction, and pursue a radical shift towards Islamic policies, that time is now. We urge both the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi to fulfil the weighty responsibility they have been charged with.