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Egypt Vision 2030 versus the youth bulge

This week marked the anniversary of Egypt’s second revolution, which ended the Muslim Brotherhood’s disastrous rule. Four years on, some stability has been achieved at a cost, with painful yet necessary reforms introduced. But it remains to be seen whether the much-needed “Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030,” launched last year, can tackle the country’s most pressing socioeconomic challenges.

The government of former President Mohamed Mursi lasted only 11 months. It confused electoral gains with unconditional authority to impose its will, in a clear demonstration of the Brotherhood’s instrumental view of the elections.

One of Mursi’s major faults was the obsession with the National Democratic Party (NDP). Purging state institutions from all members of the party of his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, and preventing them from any political participation, became the priority. This provoked a backlash from the state apparatus, which limited the already-weak capacity of Mursi’s government to deliver. 

As the Brotherhood’s critics feared, Mursi’s campaign against the NDP walked hand-in-hand with the Islamization of the state. Notable in this process were the Brotherhood’s deliberate attack on the judiciary, the use and abuse of the constitution, and the appointment of a member of militant group Gamaa Islamiya as governor of Luxor.

But perhaps most damaging to the popularity of Mursi and the Brotherhood’s Al-Nahda (Renaissance) program was losing sight of what should have been their utmost concern: Finding a consensus to govern and address Egypt’s economic disaster-in-the-making. The military coup that ended Mursi’s presidency came as no surprise, and was backed by a significant proportion of Egypt’s population.

As the saying goes, when you have a hammer, all problems start to look like nails. Facing various jihadist insurgencies, the military government led by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi — defense minister during Mursi’s government — prioritized security, counterterrorism and stability. Despite the cost of this approach, with all the restrictions it entails, some unpopular but necessary measures eventually came to the top of El-Sisi’s agenda.

Egypt should learn from the notable efforts that the Emirati and Saudi leaderships have made in communicating the reasons for reforms and their goals, both to potential foreign investors and partners and their own citizens.

Manuel Almeida

Financial aid from the Arab Gulf states, estimated at more than $30 billion, provided breathing room and the opportunity to invest in an ambitious infrastructure program. In November 2016, Egypt secured a crucial three-year, $12 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Inevitably, it included austerity measures and painful reforms such as subsidy cuts and the flotation of the Egyptian pound, which led to a devaluation of over 50 percent and an inflationary spike. But some timely developments, such as the discovery of the massive offshore Zhor gas field, have helped turn around the bleak economic scenario. Zhor holds an estimated 32 trillion cubic feet of gas, and can eventually cover domestic energy needs.

Very much in line with the reform programs of some of its key allies — such as the UAE’s Vision 2021, launched in 2010, or Saudi Vision 2030, launched in April 2016 — Egypt has developed a broad socioeconomic reform plan. It is divided into three main dimensions — social, economic and environmental — with various key performance indicators to measure progress and impact.

Egypt Vision 2030 rightly identifies some of the most pressing issues such as corruption, poverty, environmental degradation and the unsuitability of its infrastructure and urban areas. Fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, start-ups, and small and medium-sized enterprises is all part of Egyptian officials’ vocabulary today.

But young local entrepreneurs continue to note how difficult it is to open or wind down a business in Egypt due to bureaucracy, old habits and vested interests. Removing these obstacles is crucial to attract bright and highly qualified Egyptians residing in the West or the Gulf, many of whom returned after 2011 only to leave again.

Egypt should learn from the notable efforts that the Emirati and Saudi leaderships have made in communicating the reasons for reforms and their goals, both to potential foreign investors and partners and their own citizens. Local buy-in is crucial for success.

The key question is whether Egypt’s reforms will be implemented fast and deep enough to overcome its massive youth bulge: Two-thirds of its population (60 million people) are below the age of 29, and youth unemployment is above 31 percent. This two-horse race will define Egypt’s future.

 

Dr. Manuel Almeida is a consultant and political analyst focusing on the Middle East. He is the former editor of the English online edition of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper and holds a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He can be reached on Twitter: @_ManuelAlmeida.