Will El-Sisi change course dur­ing his fi­nal term?

Arab News - - OPINION - Mo­hammed NoSSeiR | Spe­cial to aRaB NewS

Shift­ing gears is not an easy task, but the de­ci­sion to do so de­pends to­tally on the legacy the pres­i­dent wants to leave be­hind and the state in which he would like to hand Egypt over to his suc­ces­sor.

AB­DEl Fat­tah El-Sisi’s re-elec­tion for a sec­ond and fi­nal term as pres­i­dent of Egypt should prompt him ei­ther to do more of what he has been do­ing dur­ing his first term, or to con­sider a com­plete shift of eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal poli­cies aimed at re­al­iz­ing achieve­ments of a dif­fer­ent kind. El-Sisi, who has so far been com­pletely fo­cused on phys­i­cal ex­pan­sion, may in his sec­ond term con­sider con­cen­trat­ing on men­tal de­vel­op­ment, which has a long-last­ing and ef­fec­tive im­pact on so­ci­ety.

El-Sisi spent his first term fo­cus­ing on three ma­jor mis­sions: Sta­bi­liz­ing the Egyp­tian state, fight­ing ter­ror­ism, and de­vel­op­ing mega-projects. There is min­i­mal room for any ex­pan­sion in these ar­eas dur­ing his sec­ond term. Over the last four years, sub­stan­tial ef­forts and fi­nan­cial re­sources have been al­lo­cated to these fields; any fur­ther achieve­ments would be hardly no­tice­able and the mag­ni­tude of the projects re­al­ized can­not be re­peated.

El-Sisi needs to work on cre­at­ing some sort of bal­ance be­tween sta­bi­liz­ing the state and em­pow­er­ing its cit­i­zens to de­velop and strengthen their sense of be­long­ing to their coun­try. The pres­i­dent needs to con­sider shift­ing his gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus from megapro­jects to gen­uinely in­cen­tiviz­ing SME ex­pan­sion, from over-em­pow­er­ing the state’s en­ti­ties to in­spir­ing Egyp­tian cit­i­zens to en­gage in, and con­trib­ute to, the res­o­lu­tion of our chal­lenges. The on­go­ing “Si­nai 2018” mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion will sub­stan­tially re­duce ter­ror­ism, and the gov­ern­ment should there­fore be able to fo­cus on bet­ter ap­ply­ing the rule of law to com­bat com­mer­cial and civil crime.

Egyp­tian lead­ers of­ten want to be re­mem­bered for their mega-projects: Ga­mal Ab­del Nasser built the Aswan High Dam and Hosni Mubarak de­vel­oped the New Val­ley Project (Toshka), which was named “Mubarak Toshka” for years un­til it was re­vealed to be a fail­ing project. El-Sisi has de­vel­oped the Suez Canal ex­ten­sion and is cur­rently fo­cus­ing on build­ing the new ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal city. The mer­its of these kinds of projects tend to be de­bat­able among experts — their out­comes of­ten last for years be­fore they even­tu­ally fade away.

The late Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat de­vel­oped a few mega-projects, but his peace ac­cord with Is­rael has been a re­mark­able achieve­ment that the en­tire world con­tin­ues to value highly al­most four decades later. Be­cause of the peace ac­cord, Egypt’s men­tal en­ergy and bud­get ex­pen­di­ture pri­or­i­ties shifted dra­mat­i­cally, from war to peace and pros­per­ity. El-Sisi has a clear op­por­tu­nity to em­bark on a sim­i­lar re­al­lo­ca­tion by tap­ping into Egyp­tian cit­i­zens’ po­ten­tial and en­gag­ing them con­struc­tively in their coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment.

The Egyp­tian state has been do­ing its ut­most to shape “fol­lower cit­i­zens.” How­ever, such hyp­o­crit­i­cal flat­ter­ers will never help a na­tion with a pop­u­la­tion of 100 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants move for­ward. Ad­di­tion­ally, the state en­gine is em­bed­ded in our deep gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy that needs to be com­pletely re­formed: An ob­so­lete en­gine can­not tow a huge, over­loaded cart.

Egypt’s young peo­ple con­tinue to be the na­tion’s main chal­lenge that could be turned into as­sets. This won’t hap­pen by en­abling them to demon­strate and protest again, but en­gag­ing them in na­tional po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ments will cer­tainly im­prove our na­tion’s pro­duc­tiv­ity. We have been deal­ing with our youth by ap­ply­ing a top-down ap­proach, im­pos­ing the older gen­er­a­tion’s ideas and at­tempt­ing to con­trol our young peo­ple. While this pol­icy might suc­ceed with a very tiny seg­ment, it keeps the ma­jor­ity at high risk.

Shift­ing gears men­tally is not an easy task, but the de­ci­sion to do so de­pends to­tally on the legacy the pres­i­dent wants to leave be­hind and the state in which he would like to hand Egypt over to his suc­ces­sor. El-Sisi could con­sider po­si­tion­ing our youth as the lo­co­mo­tive that pulls the na­tion for­ward and have the gov­ern­ment play the role of fa­cil­i­ta­tor. Break­ing out of our cur­rent eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal dead­lock re­quires us to se­ri­ously con­sider adopt­ing new pat­terns of thought that dif­fer en­tirely from those that we have been us­ing for decades.

Mo­hammed Nosseir, a lib­eral politi­cian from Egypt, is a strong ad­vo­cate of po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion and eco­nomic free­dom. Twit­ter: @Mo­hammedNos­seir

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