Egyptian elites, who used to be the engine that propelled economic advancement, are gradually becoming irrelevant for a state that wants not only to regulate the national economy, but to dominate it too. The state falsely believes that the economy is all about investment ability; thus, by expanding state investment in literally every field, it can easily replace the economic role played by Egyptian businesspeople, along with minimizing the elite’s role in society.
“Being a member of the elite in a developing nation is better than being an ordinary citizen in a developed country” is a philosophy of life to which most Egyptian elites adhere. To surround themselves with people who look alike, while harboring feelings of superiority toward the majority of ordinary Egyptians, matters more to them than seeing the country achieve true progress. What the Egyptian elite really cares about is to secure the privileges they possess, regardless of the economic and political standing of their country. However, the state is now challenging the implicit deal it struck with this segment of society that it had previously favored.
The state, which used to privilege its elites by granting them business opportunities, has decided, on the one hand, that it is better off taking those opportunities itself and, on the other hand, to be less attentive to the needs and desires of the elite. This new approach has been reflected in many incidents, such as the extension of the Cairo metro into Zamalek, an elite Cairo neighborhood. The state, while forever complaining about its financial deficit, insists on the extension, while Zamalek residents say the metro is not needed and are completely opposed to it.
It will be difficult for the Egyptian elite, who used to wield heavy influence on economic policy (although purely in their own interest) to behave like ordinary citizens. Many members of the elite who have acquired second citizenships (of Western nations, obviously) have therefore begun to invest in other countries, hoping to reap better financial returns and build reputations in their newly adopted countries.
It is true that wealthy entrepreneurs usually act in their own interests, but trying to replace them with the state does a disservice to the economy and society as a whole.
This latest moves by the state are not motivated by any belief in equality, nor do they target the elite segment of society per se. Rather they aim to change the political and social dynamics of society — not by implementing the rule of law, but by favoring itself and ensuring that power remains exclusively in the hands of its statesmen, thus weakening all of society. It believes that true stability in Egypt requires a strong state that is admired by all of society, in which entrepreneurs and their business activities play a secondary role.
In my opinion, the state should not favor one segment of society at the nation’s expense; however, singling out the economic elite as a target that we need to get even with weakens one of the chief pillars of society. We must establish a society that rewards its citizens equally, based on their merits. Exacting revenge on a segment of society will not only discourage its members from expanding their businesses, it also threatens foreign investment. The state could easily engage its elites in the economy by being fair. This is what Egypt needs today.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir