A conversation with an old friend

His voice came as it had come every time during nearly thirty years of our friendship, and after months of distance; but the greeting on his part and the joy on my part did not last long – this time I took the usual Egyptian approach in life which is a harsh attack I made in last week’s article, “The Unspoken Again,” which was an extension of an article that preceded it, “The Unspoken in a Discourse on Egypt.”

The two articles were a kind of commentary on a group of studies on Egypt published by the US Carnegie Foundation led by Palestinian-born researcher Yazid Sayegh and researchers, one of whom is of Egyptian origin and the others are Americans who are experienced in writing and researching Egyptian affairs.

All studies do not differ much from what was published about Egypt in US research centers during the past ten years, where the starting point for them has been the “coup” – not the revolution – that took place in Egypt on June 30, 2013.

The commentary in the two articles was not based on the researchers’ logic, but rather followed “discourse analysis” showing what has not been tackled and what wasn’t mentioned or taken into consideration while describing analyzing, making his vision dysfunctional and ideological more than scientific and honest.

My dear friend was completely silent on this point, and in order to soften the tone, he indicated that the opinions he expresses are not his alone, but are the subject of agreement among many, as I no more belonged to “liberalism” and no more called for the essential and obligatory role of the private sector in Egyptian development – that which I advocated for so long.

The complaint from the private sector was not new, nor was the talk about its exit from Egypt – for there were several statements by senior capitalists complaining about bureaucracy and crowding out, and how this pushes it abroad.

Such a saying has quite a bit of truth, but what is constant is that not a single Egyptian capitalist found an opportunity abroad that they did not seize, whether it was in the Arab world or in foreign countries such as Switzerland, Belgium, China, the US, or even in North Korea and Mexico.

The truth is that this is capitalism, and it goes to where there are opportunities for profit, considered the fuel that leads energy to achieve capitalist accumulation, which is the basis for the progress of states and societies.

It was no coincidence that American capitalism immigrated the entire US in order to invest in China, including the most technologically advanced ones such as Apple company.

After that, the US complained about the rise of China, and considered China its number one competitor in the world.

The difference between me and my friend, and perhaps by virtue of my profession, is that I have a large record of writings and recordings related to the importance of the private sector and capitalism in the progress of societies.

However, the issue was never theoretical, but rather signature in the Egyptian environment and the developments taking place in Egypt since the systematic writing began in the early 1980’s.

Now that four decades have passed since that, and its texts have been published in books, the current situation in Egypt necessitates not only dealing with the current difficult circumstances, but more than that including the great launch afterwards.

The starting point in Egypt’s case is that what you want for it to be a great country.

Under Egypt’s Vision 2030, Egypt is supposed to be among the top thirty countries in the world by the beginning of 2030.

This leaves us with about eight years to go.

Two important achievements have been made in development in Egypt. The first is taking steps toward balance between Egyptian geography and demography with the expansion of the Egyptian populated area from seven percent of the total Egyptian area to 15 percent, which is a leap toward achieving the goal of 24 percent within the next eight years.

Secondly, providing a broad, developed and advanced infrastructure that makes Egypt overcome its well-known crises during the past decades in housing, traffic, food, electricity, gas and employment in general.

An in the education and health sectors, quite a bit of progress has been achieved.

Such was necessary during the previous stage, and the truth is that this was also an important part of the Asian experience in development.

But the latter did not achieve the current stage except through “operating change” in the sense of benefiting and building on what was achieved through the market economy, and the effective energy of the private sector as well as foreign investment.

Looking into the Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean experience, all three started from underdevelopment to progress, and from poverty to wealth, when doors were opened to each.

Here, in particular, lies the Egyptian knot – the previous momentum that took the Egyptian growth rate up to 6.6 percent in 2021/2022 began to decline, not because of international reasons attributed to the Ukrainian war, but rather because the private sector contributions were not sufficient.

Surprisingly, the process of reforming the state’s administrative apparatus was long delayed when it was linked to the completion of the establishment of the new administrative capital.

Moreover, the many appeals of the head of state for a role for the private sector have always found no listening ears caused the confidence of the Egyptian and foreign investor to atrophy.

The solution to this knot is to achieve growth rate of eight percent annually during the coming years.

To do this, a few things are required: the first is the operation and capital exploitation of what has already been achieved on the ground in terms of assets and wealth by establishing trust through representatives of the private sector in the Federation of Industries, Chambers of Commerce and other organizations.

The second is pushing towards new segments of Egyptian capitalism and SMEs, through the privatization of the achievements that have been made, which can be transferred to small and medium units for investment in the fields of fish farms, agricultural greenhouses, fuel stations, and even service stations for the express train and monorail.

The third is completing the reform of the state’s administrative system at the same speeds with which the new Suez Canal was established, and the reclamation of hundreds of thousands of acres in Owainat and the New Delta.

The opening of the administrative capital will constitute a new chapter in the digital administration of the state.

Fourth, achieving this ambitious goal will not be without the careful application of the state ownership policy document, so that the proposed exit takes place according to an ambitious timetable, and so that the development parties in Egypt, both private and public and the armed forces, are given each in their respective capacities the necessary opportunity to achieve what they specialize in.

And finally, perhaps the time has come to activate the Egyptian Stock Exchange, which provides, on the one hand, the opportunity of ownership for Egyptian investors, and on the other hand, transparency and economic prudence for those in the private sector.

This was not discussed in the conversation with my friend, because soon after, he suggested the possibility of reviewing and re-reading the previous article, which may not have been fully presented, so it required re-examination and elaboration, which will perhaps lead to agreement amongst us.

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