Citizens International

Egypt: Transparency or collapse

By Mohamed Abul Ghar



Egypt is going through harsh times relative to the economy and international relations. This ordeal is made worse not by an evil scheme, as the president says, but rather by the failure to establish a modern and transparent regime, and the adoption of a regime that grants the president unlimited powers.

The president is running the state single-handedly, or maybe with the help of a few army generals and a few leading members of the intelligence apparatus. On the face of it, Egypt is said to have a civil regime.

However, it is a regime that has a military heart and brain. And it has been historically proven that this type of regime has no chance of realising success, neither in the medium nor the long term, even if it sometimes manages to score short-term successes.

The military mentality is mostly associated with secretive decisions and the need-to-know basis sharing of information. This is incompatible with a civil regime and is actually a trusted recipe for failure, as we saw happening with the mega projects that were pursued without any thorough feasibility studies or public debate.

The extension of the Suez Canal, which was done at potentially double cost and without sufficient feasibility studies, is but one of many examples. It was completed in one year at a very high cost, and with no return revenues whatsoever.

The same goes for the new administrative capital that is being openly criticised by all experts.

This is also the case with the scheme to cultivate 1.5 million feddans in the New Valley.

I would strongly recommend those concerned to thoroughly read the relevant studies done by prominent experts, including Rushdy Saiid, among others. If they do they would become alert to the fact that this scheme is simply unrealistic.

Still these projects are underway, despite worrying criticism. This is simply due to the fact that in the military mindset all announced objectives have to be attained and all missions have to be accomplished. This is not the way things work in real life.

Then we have the “medical adventure” that promised a breakthrough in curing Hepatitis C and AIDS through a “meat-ball” medical approach. This undertaking was firmly ciriticsed by many medical doctors, including myself. We tried to warn against this silly proposal but were shrugged off. As a result, the country faced a huge medical embarrassment.

When all is said and done, the great Egyptian army can never be fully separated from the lives of Egyptians. However, at the same time, it is not particularly wise to go too far in expanding the space that the army has in attending to civil matters. The more the scope of military public engagement, the more the chances are for misunderstandings and problems.

In the mindset of many people, an army officer, unlike perhaps a police officer, is someone with considerable discipline and uprightness. It is unwise to challenge this image.

If look back at our history we would immediately recall that on the eve of the major defeat of 1967 the army had been involved in almost all aspects of state management, including agrarian laws, state-run supermarkets, and so on. This led to a military disaster as it took the army away from its major duties.

Today, we need to reconsider heavy army management of non-military state affairs. This is in the interest of the army and of the nation at large.

We have to attend to the fact that there is a large section of citizens who are held in police custody on no legal charges and without being referred to trial under an unfair and unconstitutional law.

We have to have a clear list of numbers and names, and we have to have the unconditional release of whoever is not indicted on legal charges. We are simply turning innocent citizens into potential terrorists by subjecting them to so much unfairness and torture.

Meanwhile, we need to realise that the handling of the Tiran and Sanafir file dealt a serious blow to the popularity of the president among many Egyptians who take matters related to sovereignty over territory as matters related to personal honour.

The utter absence of transparency on this matter which was dealt with away from the people, government and parliament was a big mistake, for sure.

The situation was complicated further by very unfortunate official statements both from the president, who said publicly he wanted the matter to be discussed no further, and by the speaker of the parliament who openly compromised the right of the legislative authority to oversee the Tiran and Sanafir matter and went as far as openly saying that the separation of the judiciary and executive powers could be overlooked under the current circumstances.

It seems that the entire nation is in a fix over this matter because clearly there is no will on the side of the executive power to refer the matter to parliament, for fear of a shocking rejection that would embarrass the president and incite further public discontent.

If the state cannot find an adequate accommodation on the matter with the Saudis then the only face-saving exit is to offer the agreement on the handover of the two islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to an honest public referendum.

I have heard some suggesting that this deal included generous financial benefits to Egypt and I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask for transparency on these assumed economic benefits. It is overdue to ask for equal transparency on all economic assistance that has been offered to Egypt since 30 June 2013.

It was very unfortunate that when there were considerable demonstrations in the heart of Cairo against this deal, two weeks ago, Egyptian TV channels, both state-run and private, declined to cover these protests in favour of airing cooking and family planning programmes. This is extremely unfortunate, harking back to the way things used to be before the January 2011 Revolution.

Finally, on this matter of Tiran and Sanafir, I would like to remind the president that Palestine was Arab and that Sudan was part of the Egyptian kingdom and that Pakistan was originally part of India and that California was part of Mexico and Hong Kong was part of the British Empire, and there are ample documents to prove all of the above.

Old documents are not the most consequential matter here. And, of course, we only need to remember that in 1906 there was no Saudi Arabia to begin with.

Ultimately, we have Egyptian soldiers who died on the lands of Tiran during the wars with Israel and we have a great many tourists who visited Tiran as an Egyptian island, while Tiran was never a destination for Saudis.

Mr President, all of the above reveals the serious threats that Egypt is facing and I think you need to think very carefully about these matters and to prudently make your choices.