Egypt needs its Özal
There is disillusionment with the pace of change in Egypt. Take the 1958 emergency law, which former president Hosni Mubarak limited to the regulation of narcotics and terrorism at the demand of Tahrir Square protesters. The military, in turn, recently expanded the reach of the emergency law to the suppression of strikes, rumors, traffic disruptions, etc. The reversal came after the Israeli Embassy attack, followed by the deaths of last Sunday, giving us a glimpse of the police state to come. “That’s the way it is in Egypt,” someone would say in the end, “there is a need for more restraint.” That mantra is all too familiar to anyone acquainted with recent Turkish history.
But that is not the problem bothering me about Egypt recently. It’s the economy. Have you seen the latest International Republican Institute (IRI) (www.iri.org) poll on Egypt? It was done in April this year and released in June. The poll heralds the coming economic disillusionment; and there I see the major problem, and difference, between Turkey and Egypt.
According to the survey, 89 percent of Egyptians believe that things are moving in the right direction. Seventy-six percent of them support their government, showing that the palace-coup type of transition is progressing smoothly. Sixty-three percent, however, believe that unemployment is one of Egypt’s three most serious problems, while 36 percent think of it as the most important issue. But expectations are where things are getting out of hand: 80 percent believe that their finances will improve in one year. Five months ago, 41 percent had trouble affording food supplies, while 37 percent say they barely scrape by. They are all waiting.
After reading this survey, I remembered my moment of truth with the Egyptian revolution. Like everybody else, I was watching the events unfolding in Tahrir Square on TV. It was fun. Many networks aired interviews, but France 24 interviewed people outside of Tahrir Square too. Mubarak was still the president of Egypt, the palace coup hadn’t started yet. A poor Egyptian peasant, barefoot, sitting on a wooden chair in a coffee house garden was one of the interviewees. “Mubarak is our father,” he kept saying. “He gave us jobs and food, we cannot abandon him.” I remember thinking that there is another Egypt within the one visible in Tahrir Square, that there was also the economy to consider. And therein lays the coming disillusionment.
Did you know that someone who wants to register land in Egypt has to endure 77 different bureaucratic procedures from 31 different government agencies? And the process may take somewhere between six to 14 years? You also need the approval of the Army before building on your land. So it’s safe to say that Egypt needs policy reforms to jumpstart its economy.
But nowadays, policy reforms are thought of as inventions of Gamal Mubarak in Egypt – something negative. That is dangerous. In Turkey, policy reforms are associated with Turgut Özal, who is remembered fondly. There is no President Özal in Egypt yet. That might deepen the disillusionment.
Egyptian transformation requires a President Özal first, before an AK Party and a Prime Minister Erdoğan. That made the difference in Turkey.