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Beyond Definitions

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Mahmoud Salem

Mahmoud Salem

A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful sunny Friday, I was having breakfast with a young and brilliant economist, who is a friend of mine. I asked for her opinion on how Egypt is doing economically, and if there was a term that actually defined our economic state. She laughed hysterically, then told me that there isn’t one really. She informed me that there really isn’t an economic model that can be used to describe the Egyptian economy at the moment, and that economists, in order not to appear being without an answer, have opted to just call the current state of the Egyptian economy “an experiment”: nobody knows how it is functioning, nobody knows if it will work out or get worse, and everyone is just watching and waiting to see what will happen next. Just like everything else in the country, basically.

The government, run by super economic genius Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, has moved forward with its set of priorities aimed at restoring Egypt’s economy, which included: (1) building a hastily made memorial in Tahrir for the martyrs of 25 January and 30 June so that he can have a photo-op of him building something; (2) proposing a developmental plan for Egypt’s future that economists are laughing at; (3) asking “the Gulf” for yet another $2bn so that Egypt’s military can buy inferior Russian weaponry for no logical reason whatsoever (besides, you know, weapon sale commissions and the like). None of his priorities mention the needed reforms to the government’s (1) unsustainable and dysfunctional structure,  (2) booming budget deficits or (3) restrictions to increase private sector investments. Nobody knows exactly why that is, but my personal opinion is that he is equally fascinated by the Egyptian “economic experiment”, wants to see how it will turn out if he, the person directly responsible for its management, did nothing.

Our constitutional committee, on the other hand, is moving forward with a fair and balanced constitution in the sense that it will make everybody equally unhappy with it. Announcements that this is the first Egyptian constitution that guarantees absolute religious freedom become laughable once you realise that absolute religious freedom doesn’t include (1) freedom to publically build places of worship, (2) freedom to openly advocate your religious beliefs, (3) freedom of religious conversion or (4) freedom from following any religion.

The new constitution is happy to guarantee the citizen the right to freely practice his faith in the comfort and privacy of his own home, and nowhere else. We would like to remind you that this was the MB’s definition of religious freedom as well, and one of the main reasons people cited against them. After a year of people loudly demanding the separation of religion and politics, the Egyptian public rose against religious rule. They now seem more resolved than ever in their demand for the separation of sports and politics, because one Al-Ahly football player did a very quick Rabaa hand gesture at a major game. If you don’t understand the logic behind any of this, it’s fine. No one does. And no one cares, not even Constituent Assembly members.

Two Constituent Assembly members have told me privately that while they expect this constitution to pass overwhelmingly, they don’t expect it to last the year. Even Head of the Constituent Assembly Amr Moussa has publically stated that he views the constitution that his committee will produce as a “work in progress”. In other words, even our constitution is an experiment.

That doesn’t deter the campaigns for and against the new constitution, though: all over the streets of  Cairo there are now posters that urge you to vote for the new constitution of freedom and progress, and others urging you to vote against the new unfair constitution. Both campaigns fail to provide specifics as to why one should vote for or against the new constitution, not because there has not yet been a finalised draft yet, but because it is, almost in every way, no different than the MB constitution that the YES voters aim to replace and the NO voters aim to keep. We are watching the set-up for an epic political battle of zero consequence, other than that of meeting a milestone in our post 30 June roadmap for “stability”. How this will lead to stability, no one knows either. Just one thing seems certain: the experiment continues.

About the author

Mahmoud Salem

Mahmoud Salem

Mahmoud Salem is a political activist, writer, and social media consultant. His writings could be found at www.sandmonkey.org and follow him @sandmonkey on Twitter

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