Can Egypt become an emerging democracy?

Bolstering stability and security and enhancing democracy are the surest means to attracting investment and helping Egypt achieve the world status it should enjoy – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ibrahim Nawar, Jan 31, 2013.

The second anniversary of the revolution was far from peaceful in clear contrast to the main characteristic of the revolution itself. Egypt was unnecessarily bleeding and violent crowds took to the streets everywhere from the very peaceful city of Luxor in Upper Egypt to the resilient city of Port Said in the far north.  

Celebrating the second anniversary in such a way has cast a dark shadow on the whole political process of transformation from a totalitarian regime to an emerging multi-party democracy in Egypt.

Our world has recently become one of global democratic order. In our time, new emerging democracies can live, grow, flourish and move up the international power ladder, while old ones are trying to survive at the top of the order. Democracy is seen now as a comprehensive set of values based upon individual civil liberties, economic freedom and peace. Regimes that do not respect these values are seen as anti-democratic, thus receiving no respect, and gaining the least or no benefits from the new world order. A new political brand was crafted for such regimes, labelling or shaming them as “failed states” or in some cases “rogue states”. On the contrary, countries moving towards adopting democratic values and embracing them within a national political order are being labelled “emerging democracies”. This latter brand appeals more to investors, tourists, and international assistance. The brand “emerging democracy” has become the magic password for a brighter future in developing countries since the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Looking at Egypt from a distance and you will find that the country enjoys excellent merits and advantages. Ironically, the country seems not able to capitalise on these merits and advantages. There is a science called “Egyptology” that studies the ancient Egyptian civilisation. No other country in the world has such a privilege. Egypt links the three old continents through the great man-made maritime passage, the Suez Canal, which carries more than 10 per cent of total world freight trade. Ancient treasures, human and natural resources, location and a leading role in Arab history and culture should qualify Egypt to acquire and maintain an excellent position on the world political map. Egypt, because of its political system, has stopped short of achieving this. Moreover, Egypt has recently wasted a great chance to capture a moment in history when the whole world greatly celebrated the success story of the 25 January Revolution. It was a great chance for Egypt to move up the international ladder as an emerging leading force for democracy. Tahrir Square lost its shine when almost all political factions preferred reaping selfish benefits to working for the goals of the revolution.

This failure to capture the historical moment overshadowed the whole political process since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. There are moments in history that cannot be re-created and 25 January 2011 is one of them. In order to make up for such a failure, Egyptians need to work hard to make a new brand for themselves. If we have to re-market Egypt in the whole world, we should think of this country as a brand, because the name “Egypt” alone is not enough to create a brand after such a series of fatal shortfalls. In all cases, we should know that above all Egypt would not be able to create a new brand for itself without becoming an emerging democracy.

Fortunately, we may be able to capitalise on some of our advantages and merits and use them as a base for advancement … //

… One should remember, also, that Egypt is still far from best marketing its touristic attractions — ancient Egypt, its sun, sea and sand resorts, its deserts, and many other treasures — to become a real global touristic attraction. Countries such as France and Spain attract annually as many tourists as their population numbers. Egypt is still lagging behind. New investment in transportation, energy and tourism, either through joint ventures, private-public partnership projects, or foreign direct investment could attract huge amounts of funds from abroad and help the economy to recover and grow at a good pace.

It is very sad to realise that Egypt’s income from tourism amounts to nearly one per cent of world income from tourism. Egypt does not have a place in the top 10 touristic destinations in the world. With all that we have and can offer, Egypt should become a leading global touristic destination. This will not materialise before we stop dealing with our tourism industry as a business of fahlawa (adroitness). This industry is very important worldwide as an engine for growth and prosperity. Almost one billion tourists travelled the world last year spending $1.2 trillion. In order to have more of them we need to change the culture of this industry in Egypt and attract more investment from abroad in order to develop the industry infrastructure, services and marketing campaigns. But above all, tourism needs what other economic sectors also need in order to achieve healthy growth: stability and security.

The question is, can we really succeed in creating international interest in Egypt as a potential global transportation hub, trans-continental energy hub and global tourist destination? The answer is no if we suffer a very high deficit in democracy, security and political stability. Although these deficits are not the responsibility of the economy, it pays the price for them. The political leadership of the country and the wide spectrum of the political elite should bear this responsibility and create the right environment for economic growth and prosperity. Egypt should become an emerging democracy, not a failed state or a rogue state harbouring terrorism. This nation has a real chance to compete for a high-ranking place in the new world order.
(full text).

(The writer is chairman of the Arab Organisation for Freedom of the Press).

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