For Egyptians, there’s no place for optimistic forecasts for 2010: the start of a new year and a new decade is sadly overshadowed by a sense of stagnation and immobility.
Years, decades and centuries are not just there to measure time. They are loaded with multiple meanings and feelings, fueled by historical experiences in all walks of life.
Politically, the last few decades witnessed the astonishing spread of democratization in Africa, Asia and Latin America. There is no dearth of examples in this regard. Ten years ago, Senegal ended the 20-year rule of President Abdou Diouf in landmark democratic elections that brought the leader of the opposition to power. Likewise, the last two decades witnessed a significant turn to democracy in many Eastern European countries, such as the Ukraine, Georgia and Croatia. A similar trend swept Latin America over the same period. According to a 2009 Freedom House report, of the 35 Western Hemisphere countries, 25 are considered “free and nine “partly free. Moreover, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile are seen as “models for the developing world. And, of course, six decades of periodic elections in India have consolidated the world’s largest democratic experience.
On the other end of the spectrum, political life in Egypt remains in 2010 strictly controlled. The dominance of the ruling National Democratic Party is still intact, security agencies control all forms of dissent, the activities of political parties and professional guilds continue to be restricted, and elections are systematically rigged. Rubber-stamp parliaments faithfully serve the regime instead of monitoring the performance of the executive. In essence, the authoritarian regime established in 1952 endured, and exhibited a remarkable ability to reproduce itself against all odds.
Likewise, Egypt’s economic profile has not changed much over the past few decades. The economic challenges Egypt faces in 2010 are the same challenges that weighed down Egyptian governments in 2000, 1990, and 1980. The population boom that absorbs resources and hinders development, staggering inflation rates, high unemployment rates, and stark inefficiency in public services, all continue to evade progress.
Just as the Egyptian regime has failed to address these problems, advanced Western countries have consolidated their economic and technological superiority, China became an economic superpower, Asian tigers rose to worldwide eminency, and the small emirate of Dubai was transformed into an envied economic star in the Middle East.
So in Egypt old problems have persisted and to them a list of new problems has been added, such as the black cloud that visits the residents of Cairo and the Delta region every fall and traffic congestion that suffocates the Egyptian capital day and night. Confronting the challenges of the 21st century, such as global warming, whose effects will be detrimental to Egypt, is a luxury that the fatigued Egyptian government cannot afford.
Scientific research in Egypt suffers from negligence and scant budgets. The annual state budget for scientific research does not exceed 0.2 percent of Egypt’s national income. The average expenditure of developing countries is 1 percent of gross domestic product. The rates in advanced countries have for years ranged from three to five percent.
Despite all difficulties, changing these material realities remains easier than changing the underlying psychological mindset that brought this nation to the current abyss of backwardness. The way the Egyptian regime handled its building of an anti-smuggling underground metal barrier along its border with Gaza is evidence of the dominance of the old psychological approach to problem-solving.
Instead of devising an effective media strategy that would explain the reason behind the unanticipated decision, Cairo opted for secrecy and concealment, opting only to justify the undeniable fact that a barrier is under construction, yet refusing to reveal details about its cost and sources of funding.
This attitude is reminiscent of how business was done in authoritarian states in, say, the 1960s or 1970s. In the age of information technology, concealment is not the best strategy; in fact, it is no strategy at all. The building of a metal barrier along 12 kilometers cannot be kept a secret from thirsty-for-news media.
Disclosure was forced upon Egypt’s shortsighted politicians, who, by the time they came round to offering an official explanation it was too late and too unconvincing.
It is officially 2010. But realities around us suggest that it is not cause for celebration.
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo. He could be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org