Egypt: Is There Any Chance For Renaissance Without Freedom?
Egypt is preparing for the opening of the new Suez canal on August 6. First comes the setup of the welcoming message in the entrance of the international waterway, the Renaissance Statue.
This statue reminded me of the famous story of the Statue of Liberty in New York, which was first offered to Egypt in 1869, by the French sculptor Barthaldi, to be in the entrance of the old Suez canal, but Cairo didn't have the desire to get that icon of freedom. The statue ended up in USA.
Now, Egypt chooses the renaissance icon as a welcoming message to the world, while the freedom is trampled underfoot every day.
This raises a question: is there a renaissance for Egypt without freedom?
I believe the answer lies in 3 main challenges.
Egypt's economy is "Mostly Unfree". According to the Heritage foundation index 2015, its rank is 124 out of 178. And it is ranked 119 out of 144 according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2014 - 2015.
Egyptian government extends its involvement in economy by establishing and administrating mega projects, such as the new Suez canal that was funded by citizens (EGP 64bn for 12% interest), and the reclamation of 1 million acres in deserts. Meanwhile the privatization of public sector program was stopped or postponed.
"Policies that promote freedom, whether through improvements in the rule of law, the promotion of competition and openness, or suitable restraints on the size and economic reach of government, turn out in practice to offer and advance practical solutions to a wide range of economic and social challenges that face the world’s societies" Ambassador Terry Miller and Anthony B. Kim commented on the index of Economic Freedom 2015.
They added "in many respects, economic freedom is merely shorthand for an openness to entrepreneurial activity that increases opportunity for individuals to succeed in their endeavors".
The corruption is a global problem, but Egypt's rank in the Corruption Perception Index 2014 is 94 out of 175.
"Several of causal variables are related to the extent of government intervention in the economy and, more generally, to variables (such as the level of import tariffs or civil service wages) that are determined by government policy", those are possible causes of corruption according to "Corruption and the Global Economy" book, by Institute for International Economics, page No. 85.
The government tries to solve the problem of unemployment which reached 13% in 2013 according to the official statistics. It rose public sector employees 3.7% in FY 2013/2014 as published in the Daily News Egypt, now there are almost 5.752 million public employee in 2014, instead of 5.438 million in the previous period, that's 6.8% of 84 million population.
Using public employment as a solution for unemployment widens one of the corruption resources: poor officials with authorities, the vast majority of them take very low salaries, people want to achieve their interests, long judicial procedures, and finally people pay bribes to finish their interests or get benefits. This policy will also affect the investment and for sure the employment in private sector in the future.
The corruption also has a deep impact on the regime, it weaknesses the regimes' legitimacy, and for sure it affects the political stability, which has bad results on the investment, economy and job opportunities.
One of the effective ways to fight corruption is freedom of press. Egypt's rank in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index is 158 out of 180 countries.
"The freedom of the press has been found to be a potentially good mechanism as external control on corruption, particularly because it seems to be effective against both extortive and collusive corruption." said Cristina Casanova in her research "Determinants of corruption. The role of Press Freedom." at University of Amsterdam, Department of Economics.
Practically, Egypt has chosen to fight religious extremism by security solutions, the same old ways that never worked in the past.
For about 20 years (1970s to 1990s) Egypt was exposed to waves of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremist groups; al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and Jihad.
In July 5, 1997 the leaders of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya while in the prisons renounced bloodshed, and published several books, to reconsider their extreme thoughts.
This was introduced to the public by the Egyptian media as the most successful process in fighting terrorism, in the region, and maybe in the world. However some opinions believe that it was not a real mind change, because it came under custody and security pressures, it was just a tactic and not a strategic change.
To avoid controversial judgment about that process, let's say that the security solution could achieve a relative success. However it remains very costly (hundreds were killed, thousands were arrested and tortured, and unknown amount of money was spent to fund the operations from the state that has more than 25% of its population under poverty line). it took about 2 decades to end up with uncertain results.
Fighting extremism in the first priority is an intellectual duty, intellectuals and writers need freedom to produce good and effective ideas and writings (Egypt is "not free" according to Freedom House foundation report 2015).
The freedom is essential for renaissance, it's the solution for almost all major problems in Egypt.
To solve the economic problems, the country needs economic freedom.
To defeat corruption, Cairo needs to support freedom of press, and it would be great if citizen journalism was encouraged by media outlets, and the government took wise and rapid actions against corrupted officials.
To fight extremism and terrorism effectively, security solutions are not enough, Egypt needs freedom of expression, it has to enhance freedom of believe and tolerance.
Freedom is the direct gate to a stable renaissance.