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June 29, 2012

Egypt: Economy not politics is relevant than ever

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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The top priority of Egypt's new president must be achieving both economical development and social justice. He should not occupy himself with political issues, like quarreling with the military about the powers that they still hold, until the new constitution is written and approved. Alternatively, if Egyptians hear from him the usual political Muslim Brotherhood narratives, they will topple him before his term of office is over.

Last Sunday Mohammed Morsi was declared Egypt's elected president after the first free elections in the country's history, narrowly defeating his opponent Hosni Mubarak's last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Morsi had 51.7% – more than 13 million - of the votes while 48.3% went to Shafiq. Turnout in the June 16-17, 2012 poll was put at 51%.

Judge Farouk Sultan, the head of the Presidential Election Commission, described the elections as "an important phase in the end of building our nascent democratic experience".

Egyptians are happy that the country will finally be headed by a freely elected civilian, following six decades of having four presidents who have all come from the ranks of the military.

"We got to this moment because of the blood of the martyrs of the January 25th revolution," said an Egyptian youth, "Egypt will start a new phase in its history."

Morsi is facing many challenges.

But he should not waste his time complaining that he does not have the powers of a full fledged president or engage in political wrangling with the military and other political parties.

Morsi can do a lot; he has the full power of the executive branch.

According to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ legal adviser Major General Mamdouh Shahin, the newly elected president will appoint the prime minister and cabinet ministers, including the minister of defense. He added that a new constitution should be completed within four months, and a new parliament in place by the end of the year.

Moreover, Shahin added that in the absence of parliament "neither the newly elected president nor SCAF will have a free hand in issuing legislation; both will have to reach an agreement".

"SCAF assumed legislative power, after the parliament was dissolved by the Supreme Court, because the president of the republic cannot hold executive and legislative powers simultaneously. The situation will end after a new parliament is elected," said Shahin.

If Morsi wishes to succeed he can appoint an experienced prime minster, two or more competent vice presidents, and several top experts in economical development, in education, in social justice issues and in foreign affairs.

The country has 40% of its population earning less than $2 per day. The disparity between regions and between rich and poor is huge. The poverty level in Upper Egypt is some 80%. There is over 4 million people looking for jobs today and every year there are 800,000 joining them.

The public education system is grossly underfunded. Gone are the days when the best-educated doctors, engineers and other professionals in the Arab world were all Egyptian university graduates. Instead the government had been encouraging business people to establish private for-profit universities.

Egyptians spend over half a billion dollar a year on smoking and three times that amount on health related issues. Egypt is among the top 10 countries where a large percentage of the population are diabetic because of the over consumption of fast food.

Egypt’s foreign relations with African, Arab and Islamic countries are all in a bad shape. Egypt relation with the US, EU and Asian countries are not much better.

In my proposed plan “4+4”, offered to the 13 presidential candidates of the first round and based on my study of the experience of 6 countries (China, Malaysia, India, Turkey, Brazil and South Africa) I concluded that for Egypt to achieve both economical development and social justice there are 4 parameters that must be reduced by an average of 7% per year, every year, for the next 20 years and 4 parameters must be increased by an average of 7% per year, every year, for the same 20 years.

The first four are: the percentage of poor, unemployment rate, level of consumption, and finally the rate of population increase. While the second four are: the level of national saving, national and direct foreign investment, GNP and finally government spending on education and training, infra-structure, health care and R&D.

Morsi must convince Egyptians, sooner than later, that economical development and social justice, not politics, are both his top priorities and both are moving in the right direction. If he does not, he will be the first failed free-elected president of Egypt.

Egyptian-born Dr. Elmasry is professor emeritus of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo.

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Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and the author of several books focussing on the Middle East including 'The Hundred Years' War On Palestine'. He explains some of the basic facts of the struggle for Palestinian independence and the creation of the Zionist project of Israel.

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