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The cost of change in Egypt - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Those who say that Egypt post-25 January – the date that the demonstrations demanding political change began – will be different than it was before are correct, even if the cost of the changes demanded by the demonstrators have been, until now, economically grave.

Many, including even the Egyptians themselves, were surprised, by the direction taken by the protest movement in a country that until then appeared to be stable and whose institutions seemed strong, to a large extent. What is happening in the international financial markets and the rise in the price of oil, is evidence of Egypt’s strategic importance, and there are fears that this state of instability will continue, and this is something that nobody wants.

Nobody can deny that there has been huge economic loss [in Egypt], whether we are talking about the losses suffered by the Egyptian stock exchange, or the paralysis of the commercial and economic markets and the country’s labor force practically coming to a halt, or the prolonged closure of banks and the internet, which has become central to carrying out any economic activity. There have also been large property losses, as well as the loss of some public utilities, as a result of subversive elements taking advantage of the political protests that are taking place across the country and which have nothing to do with vandalism.

These losses would be temporary and it would be possible to overcome this in the event of the situation [in Egypt] returning to normal. However the greatest loss with regards to Egypt’s long-term future is the loss of a climate of trust, for such a climate is a key feature with regards to attracting [foreign] investment, companies, and business to the country in order to create jobs and revive the economy. Over the past thirty years successive Egyptian governments have undertaken huge efforts to convince the international community and companies and investors – both local and international – that there is a promising and stable market, and that there is a suitable environment for investment and business in the country. There has been an ongoing debate about whether economic reform precedes political reform or vice versa, however the most recent events have shown that such reform most occur simultaneously.

In this developing country, modernization and economic developments are a priority, and this task will be difficult for any future government, for the entire world has witnessed the collapse of Egypt’s security and institutions, and the [power] vacuum that has occurred, as well as the relevant authorities’ failure to act quickly. This will all be in the minds of the companies, investors, and tourists, and it will require efforts – which may take years – to correct this and remove this from their memories. For many countries around the world experience disorder and crises, however their institutes – particularly their financial and commercial institutes- continue to operate, at least in part, without suffering complete paralysis for a long time.

Eliminating the impact of this could take long years, or this could be achieved within a short period of time, depending upon how this is dealt with. If the situation sees the state of tensions that has occurred in Egypt, and the grievances of the protestors, being addressed in a clear manner, this would result in the situation calming down and result in the feeling that progress is being made. This would see even greater investment in Egypt than before. However, having said that, the worst scenario would be deadlock and burying our heads in the sand.

Egypt has paid an exorbitant price in advance, and it would not be right if this were in vain. Therefore there are general interests, whether for the government or the opposition, and so there must be an agreement on a clear path on how to extricate ourselves from this crisis and rectify the situation in a manner that is convincing to the protestors who have been protesting every day for the past week. We must convince them that there is room for their demands, and we must show the world that there is a vision for the future and a mutual-desire not to fall into the trap of chaos.

There are signs that we have seen the beginning of change with the appointment of a vice president, and this is an issue that has implications, as it occurs before the Egyptian presidential elections that are scheduled to take place later this year. This means that the scenario of Mubarak running for president again, or bequeathing the presidency to his son [Gamal Mubarak] have no basis now. A new government has been formed whose tasks include opening dialogue with the oppositions and bringing about political reform, and the Egyptian Speaker of Parliament has spoken about amending the parliamentary representation in light of a Supreme Court investigation challenging the results of the last election. The most important thing is for the governmental response to be in line with the speed of what is happening on the street, and for lessons to be learnt from what has happened with regards to political reform, as well as those responsible for the security vacuum, looting, and prisoner escape being held accountable. Should all of this happen, then the long-term impact of what has happened could represent a boost for the country’s future, and be a source of greater [economic] trust. Every country in the world has problems and crises, but what is most important to the rest of the world is how these crises are resolved.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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