CAIRO: In defending his party’s liberal economic policies, Al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour attacked Monday the economic policies of the National Democratic Party (NDP), accusing successive governments of a misapplication of liberal economic ideas.
Speaking to leaders of labor groups as a potential candidate in next year’s presidential elections, Nour denied any contradiction between Al-Ghad’s economic polices and workers’ rights.
He applauded the labor movement in Egypt for achieving in the past six years what no other political movement could, while adding that political elite hasn’t been sufficiently involved with them.
"For over 111 years, the labor movement in Egypt has been strongly tied to political activism as it was initiated on a base of real social demands," Nour said. "It is illogical to demand political freedoms while basic social and economic rights are absent. Workers are the real hope for change in Egypt."
Nour’s meeting with labor leaders is the second in a series titled "Workers and Change Advocates." The series, which connects workers with political figures calling for change, is organized by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
Last week Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a reform advocate, told workers that democracy is the only way to guarantee equitable economic and social rights for workers, urging them to join the National Association for Change.
However, workers urged ElBaradei to advocate economic and social rights rather than democracy. They demanded that workers become the core of any future action for change instead of the "fake" political elite.
For Nour, the workers’ criticism was focused on the liberal economic ideas adopted by Al-Ghad. In response, he assured the workers that their interests won’t be harmed by his party’s proposed “liberal” policies, explaining that the government’s current economic policies "are far from being liberal."
"We have beliefs in a free market and privatization and we have already presented alternative legislations that express our thoughts, like the unified work law in 2003," Nour said. "But they were ignored [repeatedly] in the parliament."
"Our privatization focuses on ownership and management patterns guaranteeing labor rights; what is happening now is thievery and a waste of resources rather than a liberal economy," Nour added.
The proposed law, according to Nour, was made with the help of workers. The draft law proposed a minimum wage of LE 1,000-1,200, diminishing the role of the Ministry of Manpower, establishing the freedom to create multiple syndicates, guaranteeing the right to strike, and abandoning the temporary contracts system.
The draft law also proposed paying LE 150 per month in unemployment benefits for two years, during which period the unemployed youth would join a training program designed to qualify them for the current job market.
Nour claimed that resources needed for funding this project, LE 17 billion, would be secured by minimizing expenditure on nonessential items in the budget, such as the Ministry of Information and Central Security Forces.
"Our economic project targets a 9 percent growth rate, distributed fairly over all governorates using a target-oriented general budget that can be applied using 2011’s budget," Nour said.
Nour also called for the privatization of public services by changing ownership patterns to guarantee higher efficiency. In this scenario, the state’s role would be to monitor the quality level of the privatized services offered.
Tackling the issue of change, Nour said that civil disobedience would be a last resort, and that the public — many of whom are workers — would be its core.
"We want a rational and peaceful change, but the regime is forcing the opposition towards [implementing] a more radical method," Nour said. "How can they claim to be liberals and yet they enforce the emergency law and allow military courts?"