Before an election, candidates will sell their dreams and illusions to the electorate, but afterwards they are judged on their actions, not their words. Mohammad Gouda is a member of the Economic Council and Secretary for Education of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which won the parliamentary elections in Egypt. He has vowed to boost Egypt’s economic standing above Turkey and Malaysia.
Of course, this is not impossible: Egypt is capable. Its economic failure can only be blamed on its political leadership, namely the leadership of the Mubarak regime, which represents thirty years of failed management. But the worry is that Gouda – and he is one of the more economically minded members of the new ruling party – is being unrealistic, and perhaps all his talk is nothing more than coffee-house gossip!
For example, he says that income from the Suez Canal could increase to $100 billion within a year. How is this possible? If we understand that annual income from the Suez Canal produces around $5 billion, this means that he believes he can collect twenty years of shipping tolls in a single year!
He also hopes to transform Egypt’s deserts into oases, cultivating more than three million acres of land on Egypt’s north coast and in the Sinai Peninsula. He will discover, as Mubarak’s government did in its attempt to cultivate Toshka Oasis [New Valley Project] – that without huge long-term investment, this land does not produce much crop-yield.
He talked about the party’s desire to push Egypt to become a knowledge-based economy, like India. During the last decade, Egypt has excelled in implementing individual initiatives in this vein, but the new government must first rebuild the education system if it wants to change the country’s economic direction. Egypt must listen to Nobel prize-winning scientist Ahmad Zeweil, who has strong opinions in this regard.
Gouda talked about raising state income though a levy on ‘zakat’ [Islamic alms], or taxes, but he will soon find out that in a weak economy, the amount levied will be small. Talking about fees, taxes and ‘zakat’ as national resources reflects an inability to develop and a dependence on public resources. He has displayed some good ideas, but they are appropriate for a country with huge resources, not a government that has inherited a poor economy. Providing homes with natural gas to replace butane is an idea that should be implemented after the country is able to collect additional resources from selling gas overseas to generate hard currency.
Although I’ve read everything by Mohammad Gouda, and he is admittedly one of the more economically minded members of the Muslim Brotherhood, I have found most of his ideas on the country’s development to be generic and inconsistent with the harsh reality present in Egypt today. Everything that he is talking about is capital-intensive, and can only be achieved through expensive government debt. This is also only possible if other countries, or international funding bodies, are prepared to offer such funds at this time when the financial crisis is still affecting the developed and developing worlds.
If the Muslim Brotherhood really does want to change the miserable state of affairs it has inherited, it has to be braver than its predecessors by adopting a strict policy with specific and long-term goals. I haven’t heard anything about the huge problem that is wrecking Egypt’s financial capabilities, namely unchecked population growth, whilst the issue of fighting corruption is also extremely important. Population growth is the main reason for poverty and economic difficulties in Egypt; Mubarak’s government tried to address this once, but backed away because of public anger. India and China are the two countries that Gouda cited as having adopted population control policies, and without a similar policy Egypt’s poverty and troubles will continue to increase, whilst the government will be unable to succeed. Adopting policies on education, youth empowerment, population control, and combatting corruption will allow the rest of the world to trust in – and aid – a Muslim Brotherhood government, allowing it to succeed where Mubarak’s governments failed. Without this, the [new] government will flounder and the people will cry for a return to the old days, even with the poverty and mismanagement that existed then.