The key to a comeback is Egyptian citizenry
Egypt was relevant until recently to curators of modern natural history museums and authors of high school history books; a “long time ago in a land far far away” fairy tale, with some pretty cool props like the pyramids. And then, a BIG BANG, the revolution of 2011. What an insane rush! Millions lined up in Tahrir Square for an unprecedented 18 days, and for the first time in a long, long time the entire world took notice of a country that has been a chronic underperformer. A population slightly larger than Turkey’s but GDP that’s less than one-third. Someone play the theme song of one of the Rocky movies, an appropriate backdrop to energize this once great nation to achieve again. A comeback story, Hollywood, Bollywood style in the offing, hopefully of epic proportions.
The key to a comeback is Egyptian citizenry. Throughout their history Egyptians have been loyal to a fault, tolerating the weaknesses and mind numbing greed of their rulers. History books come in handy here, and it’s obvious to see that Egyptians suffer from battered citizen syndrome. The Pharaohs did it and clearly enjoyed it. Find whichever Ramses you like and it’s the same old story. Hosni “Pharaoh” Mubarak took a chapter straight out of the history books. Now, this story wouldn’t be surprising in your favorite sub-saharan West African dictatorship, but for Egypt a proud country to tolerate such corrupted leadership in the modern age was plain stupid. Here’s the good, hopeful part, with the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square finally asking the impertinent question, the rocket fuel for a comeback is ready. Egyptians have realized that loyalty to selfish demagogues doesn’t pay and they are now clamoring for change, and they can do it.
So, where is Egypt’s Susilo Bambang, Ata Turk, or Barack Obama? A recent article in Vanity Fair, “Waking the Lion,” highlighted many lion hearted Egyptians that steered the revolution. Their biographies are mesmerizing. From 30-year-old Google executive, Wael Ghonim standing on a rooftop surrounded by satellite dishes, a laptop, an Egyptian flag and clothed in what else but jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, the original rap revolutionary garb, one of the faces of the faceless Facebook revolution, to the 74-year-old deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Rashad al Bayoumi, and even he with his broad avuncular smile, seemed ready to embrace the new energy. With this unbelievable talent available to Egypt, it is simply a question of creating a vehicle that can be propelled forward by the rocket fuel coursing through the populace.
Egypt is in uncharted territory fraught with landmines. The military is in charge, but who will engineer an urgent path to a representative government and underscore the formula for an economic recovery? The issues that must be confronted range from systemic corruption, high unemployment, massive subsidies for food and fuel to placate the people, and the only political party with infrastructure, the NDP, decapitated with its leadership permanently tainted. As Egypt’s people scramble to establish new political parties what is needed is a three step intervention:
First, the armed forces need to provide the citizens with security. Second, like in Pakistan, the lawyers and judicial system need to break away from the yoke of leadership, past, present and future. This is essential to establish a check and balance that will dissuade future demagogues; and, finally the citizenry needs to deliver a representative government that combines selfless Egyptians that aspire to deliver greatness within the context of the realities on the ground.
I for one believe that the Egyptian Big Bang will return the Greatest Civilization and with that in mind intend to buy into the EGX 30, for the long game. Watch out BRICs, another regional power is in the making.
Javed Ahmed, a Yale and Harvard graduate, grew up in Pakistan and currently works in the energy industry in London