Even before the ousting of President Hosni Mubarrak, most Egyptians were aspiring for high standard of living and a respectful position among the comity of nations. They believed that they had all the resources required to achieve their aspirations, especially human resources with respect to the number of work force as well as their educational and training preparations compared to the rest of Arab world.
This perception might have been true several decades ago but the adjoining and distant countries have made tremendous progress since then. Currently, Egypt will be compelled to reconsider its education and training programs if it compares the level of skill and training its work force to those of Western and rising Asian nations. These countries have achieved an advanced level of professional skills and training for its work force that has given them an edge over others.
The skills obtained through formal and higher education in addition to academic and vocational training may be useless in the progress of any society if they are not compatible with the skills needed in the modern world. These skills ought to be linked to the advanced technology and a cultural environment that emphasizes excellence through applying good management and positive work ethics.
The aspirations that Egyptians nurture are the same that most people around the world have and so they are legitimate and appreciated.
Nonetheless, the culturally conducive environment remains the cornerstone of progress regardless of theocratic doctrines of the people — Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism or Islam. Moreover, most of the advanced nations have not taken help from their religious beliefs to resolve their political, economic and social problems.
While Egypt is now striving to cope with its challenges, the focus should be on establishing a culture that emphasizes equality, fairness, respect for human dignity and positive values (e. g., honesty, accuracy, and positive work ethics—respect for time, punctuality, etc). This culture would help — like in any developed country — human talent to flourish in creativity and productivity and ultimately improve Egyptians' living standards and politically empower their country.
Without that culture neither Egypt nor any country in the world can achieve its aspired objectives or gain political influence at the international arena. Egypt is facing difficult and varied challenges. At the domestic level, among the most difficult challenges that is facing Egypt is the issue of a new constitution. It is crucial, as it will determine the entire nation’s future. Thus, the constitution should mirror the interests of all segments of the society to ensure political and social stability of the country. Every group should be heard and included.
The economic benefits hadn’t trickled down to most of the Egyptian population, which caused an apparent economic and social disparity and hampered attempts to revamp the current infrastructure and to launch new projects. Those internal challenges cannot be tackled by the government’s existing financial resources and would need assistance from industrialized countries, world financial organizations and oil-producing Arab countries, specifically the GCC states as these internal challenges require strong economy, which Egypt currently lacks.
With respect to the international community, there are two important issues that raise concern: The rights of religious minorities and the role of Egyptian women in society. Despite the fact that prosecution of religious minorities are taking place in some parts of the world, the international community will not remain silent toward these violations and respond with anger.
Basically, Egyptian religious minorities have lived with Muslims in harmony for hundreds of years and are woven in the fabric of the society. However, some government actions concerning the minorities could be interpreted as somewhat oppressive. This perception may be detrimental to the country’s interest. The same thing could be said about Egyptian women.
The international community may not have the means to visit Egypt to observe how the teachings of Islam are practiced in the society and see firsthand the conditions of religious minorities and women. Also, in terms of Egypt's historical and geopolitical conditions, potential negative perceptions concerning these specific issues could be disadvantageous for most Egyptians.
The GCC countries have always maintained excellent relations with Egypt in various areas and have proved to be reliable friends in time of need. However, during occasional crisis between one of these states and Egypt, the Egyptian public reaction showed that the GCC countries are perceived by Egyptians as a threat and an obstacle in the way of their country's progress. Whereas, in reality Gulf countries have always showed respect and good intention by practically supporting Egypt, not shown by any other non-Gulf country.
Although the GCC states enjoy strong relationship with advanced countries and similarly with the rest of the world, Egyptians ought to realize the importance of these strategic ties between GCC states and the West and avoid negative media campaigns during crisis.
Note: In response to my article, “Social change and wearing the veil” published in this newspaper last week there have been comments that showed my opinion has been misunderstood.
Some Saudi youths are not aware of the fact that before the oil boom women in most regions of the Kingdom neither wore abaya nor used veil in the presence of the people they were familiar with. I mentioned it in my article to make this historical fact known to all. I wrote that "Saudis and non-
Saudis" who found job opportunities in regions other than their own were considered strangers, so women started covering themselves. Some readers misunderstood it as criticism against expatriates, and that wasn’t the case.