Since the adoption of neoliberal policies in the 1980s, many countries have suffered from inequality even though they have enjoyed financial success. The international financial crisis in 2008 has revealed that we live in what Hans-Peter Martin aptly describes as a “one-fifth society” in his book The Global Trap: Globalization and the Assault on Prosperity and Democracy. This is a world in which 20 percent of the population controls 80 percent of its resources.
Egypt is no exception to this global phenomenon. In this moment of transformation, we cannot examine questions of justice without discussing economic and social inequality. The Egyptian experience, like much of human history, demonstrates that justice is more than just an ethical or religious issue.
If the law provides guarantees for justice while in practice there are is a lack of tangible steps to narrow the social gap, then economic and social inequality will remain.
Neoliberal policies have helped create a wealthy minority through the market economy, privatization and monopolies. This minority uses the media as well as culture and religion to perpetuate the notion that rich and poor are born as such, even though the wealth gap stems from inequalities in wealth, power, privileges and status. This inequality emanates from our access to opportunities, which in turn is determined our respective positions on the social ladder.
Social and economic rights have faded into the background since neoliberalism has reshaped social policies in a fashion that serves market forces. State social programs have been restructured to suit the requirements of the market, rather than serving the haves and the have-nots alike. They have been viewed as commodities for which people have to either pay a price or wait to receive charity from some organization.
The commodification of human life has eroded the concept of citizenship, resulting in an unbalanced form of growth that has helped some flourish at the expense of others. Extreme inequality has come to define relationships between generations, genders, religious communities and residents of urban and rural areas. That is why the Tahrir revolutionaries’ motto has been to uphold social justice and human dignity, in addition to freedom.
We cannot afford to drop the issue of social justice when discussing Egypt’s political development. Are we ready to give up neoliberal policies, which have already been discarded in several countries around the world? Only then will we have a real state of its citizenry based on justice for all.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.