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What is hindering Egypt’s modernization?

“A dollar per employee is the average annual human development budget for government personnel,” an Egyptian minister recently said. This statement sums up what truly stops Egypt from becoming a modernized country.

We are always concerned with upscaling the entire population, an almost impossible mission and one that is not required. What we really need to do is focus on advancing the knowledge of the most promising segments of society and empowering them to lead the country.

Egypt’s limited resources are shrinking while its population (estimated at 100 million, including overseas workers) is growing rapidly. Population growth is an argument that has been regularly used by consecutive Egyptian governments to justify our overall mediocrity and explain our national inadequacies.

The combination of reduced resources and exponential population growth has led Egyptian governments to resort to international grants and loans to cover our budget deficit. Although this complicates our challenges further, our governments have been unwilling to consider alternative economic policies.

With such a large population, continuing to distribute revenues among citizens while slightly favoring the poorer segment of the population leaves us living with a low numeric average. Instead, we need to invest in promising citizens who can help us increase our wealth and pay us back within a short timeframe, then move on to the next promising segment of society, and so on. This requires a radically different economic philosophy than the current one.

For decades, Egyptian governments have been managing our poverty, not working to eliminate it. Allocating extra resources and subsidies to poor people, getting more money out of wealthy citizens and demanding additional international loans will help the poor to better meet their basic needs, but it will not boost the economy. We can make better returns on our investments by giving the same amount of funds to business-oriented citizens and requiring them to employ poor citizens.

What we have been doing in Egypt for some time is renovating our assets and facilities. This is completely different than upscaling our country, which requires economic reforms driven by a progressive government.

Poverty is more a mental state than a physical one. Modernization requires a progressive mindset that relies less on resources and more on how to expand wealth and tackle challenges.

Mohammed Nosseir

The renovation approach applied over decades gives a false impression of development. As long as we do not tackle the core issue of our deficiency, we are simply wasting our resources. There is no need to train people who are either untrainable or resistant to all forms of development.

For years, we have wasted our energy and resources by sailing against the wind and complaining that the boat is not operating properly. Distributing national resources equally while favoring the poor is a policy of pleasing that segment of society, but it will never modernize Egypt. Human development issues should be tackled based on who has the ability and willingness to move the country forward, and a commitment to pay back their debt to it.

Poverty is more a mental state than a physical one. Modernization requires a progressive mindset that relies less on resources and more on how to expand wealth and tackle challenges.

So we must immediately appoint executives who can address our challenges intelligently, easily recognize government errors and work to correct them. Being governed by mediocre mindsets and poor polices — and continuing to defend both — are increasing our economic costs and distancing us from any genuine reform.

• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. He can be reached on Twitter @MohammedNosseir.