CAIRO: In his July 26, 1952 speech calling on Egypt’s last monarch King Farouk to abdicate, General Mohamed Naguib, who headed the Free Officers that overthrew the king said:
“In view of what the country has suffered in the recent past, the complete vacuity prevailing in all corners as a result of your bad behavior, your toying with the constitution, and your disdain for the wants of the people, no one rests assured of life, livelihood, and honor. Egypt’s reputation among the peoples of the world has been debased as a result of your excesses in these areas to the extent that traitors and bribe-takers find protection beneath your shadow in addition to security, excessive wealth, and many extravagances at the expense of the hungry and impoverished people.
He spoke as the voice of the army that “represents the power of the people. His words were to herald a new era of liberty from the tyranny of Britain’s control over the king and the government, to rebel against the corruption of state institutions, the palace and the political parties, and to rid the country of the traitors who pursued their personal interests without a thought for the greater good of Egypt.
Fast-forward 57 years to 2009 and the picture may not be exactly the same, but it isn’t all that different either. Like a combination of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm and his haunting “1984, Egypt’s “glorious revolution (as the state continues to label it to this day) has reached full circle. Few can dispute the applicability of Naguib’s words to Egypt’s political and social environment today.
In “Animal Farm, the idealism of Old Major, the prize Middle White Boar who inspires the rebellion with his notions of a utopian society where human beings are no longer in control, is overtaken by the fierce-looking Berkshire boar, Napoleon, who wields absolute power and turns the innocent puppies on the farm into vicious dogs to protect him. He also manages to drive away Snowball, his idealistic rival, whose popularity stemmed from a dedication to help the animals achieve their vision of a truly egalitarian utopia.
With the help of Squealer, Napoleon’s “minister of propaganda, by the end of Orwell’s poignant dystopian novel, the pigs have learnt to walk upright and behave just like the humans against whom they had originally revolted.
Gradually, the “revolutionary council’s Seven Commandments (1. whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy; 2. whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings is a friend; 3. no animal shall wear clothes; 4. no animal shall sleep in a bed; 5. no animal shall drink alcohol; 6. no animal shall kill any other animal; and 7. all animals are equal) give way one by one. At the climax of the story, Squealer reduces all the commandments to a singular law to guarantee Napoleon and his posse’s absolute control: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, he declares.
Jones’ farm isn’t such a long way off from our very own Egyptian manor headed by its lord of the manor and his entourage, but with a few differences of course.
Whereas before 1952 we had a monarchy, today we have a ruling party, headed by a ruling family whose son is likely to succeed his father, naturally following free and fair democratic elections which will reflect the will of the people.
Whereas before 1952 education was only accessible to an elite minority, today free public schools and universities are available to all, but the catch is, can you afford to pay the exorbitant private tuition because overcrowded classes and untrained, underpaid teachers will probably do very little teaching at your child’s free public school?
Before 1952 and perhaps throughout the first decade following the revolution, Egypt was an economic powerhouse. Today we import 7 million metric tons of wheat annually, which constitutes just over half our needs.
In a 2006 book by Khalid Ikram titled “The Egyptian Economy 1952-2000: Performance, Policies and Issues, the author examines developments over the 50 years in foreign trade and investment, public finances, financial and monetary developments, employment, and poverty and income distribution.
“These details bring out the bad news, says reviewer Patrick Clawson.
“Even setting aside a dependence on foreign aid, Egypt’s foreign exchange earnings have come overwhelmingly from its location and its resources – Suez Canal tolls, oil exports, tourism, and workers’ remittances – rather than from local industry and agriculture, which have stagnated. Employment growth has been disproportionately in the civilian government bureaucracy, which mushroomed from 350,000 workers in 1952 to 5,000,000 in 2000.
Population growth was not the main reason: Bureaucrats per hundred of population rose from two to eight, even excluding a vast army of workers in public enterprises.
He concludes by saying that Egypt’s economic problems are “homegrown rather than being imposed by a cruel world. Government paperwork strangles entrepreneurs. Public policy discourages exports, particularly holding back the growth of manufacturing for which Egypt is well suited. The legal system is cumbersome and repetitive. Tax rates are too high and the system so complex that enforcing it consumes much of what the taxes raise.
The past four years have certainly seen higher growth rates, more FDI and improved government policies, but how and if the fruits of this boom (truncated as it is by the current global economic crisis) will ever reach the 25 percent of the population living at $2 a day, remains a mystery.
In his speech to mark the 57th anniversary of the “glorious revolution, President Hosni Mubarak hit the nail on the head when he drew attention to the numerous difficulties and challenges we are facing domestically, but at the same time, he missed the mark when he claimed that based on what we have achieved so far, we should be confident that we’re on the right path.
Plagued by over 9 percent unemployment rate, an education system in doldrums and an astronomical percentage of illiteracy, Egypt is definitely not where it’s supposed be today.
If the “right path has brought us here, then only a new path based on true democratic ideals – socially, economically and politically – can get us out of this rut.
Only then will the Egyptian people have a reason to hail the “glorious revolution.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.