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Egypt's revolution two years on

Two years on from its 25 January Revolution, Egypt has taken significant steps towards establishing a new order. Several institutional pillars have been installed, foremost among which are the election of the first civilian president and investiture of an upper house of parliament, two-thirds of whose members were elected. Had it not been for the disbanding of the elected lower house, the foundation-laying would have been more complete. Without these, it would be almost impossible to launch the process of economic development, social justice and renaissance. There is, though, still much more to be done.

So far, the transition has been plagued with set-backs and crises but this is to be expected in any society emerging from the clutches of a dictatorship; old habits die hard. In Egypt, entrenched social attitudes and vested interests remain stubborn obstacles to progress.


Politically, the opposition has identified itself mainly by what it stands against; namely the president and government who have been caricatured as weak, inexperienced and inept. Are we really expected to believe that if opposition personalities were to assume power tomorrow all the country's problems would be solved overnight? While their leaders stick to the official line of peaceful protests, their foot-soldiers indulge in campaigns of violence and sabotage, especially against the Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party. That, to them, is revolutionary action.


This week, however, the prominent Copt intellectual Rafeeq Habeeb accused the opposition of orchestrating chaos in order to impose their political agenda. Having failed to rally support on the streets, as the election results demonstrated, they have resorted to this strategy to make them appear stronger than they actually are.

If the aim of this confrontational style of politics is to scare away foreign investors, it is not working. Recently, the South Korean conglomerate Samsung signed an agreement to build its first Middle East factory in Egypt. The deal between the company and government will see a factory worth $1.7 billion built on a 3,700 square metres site in Bani Suwayf governorate.

Other global investors include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. He is leading a group earmarking US$1 billion for a stake in the construction and fertiliser company OCI NV, currently one of Egypt's largest foreign currency earners. Gates, along with South Eastern Asset Management and Davis Selected Advisers, is also helping to fund Egyptian infrastructure projects.

The political climate may appear gloomy but these accomplished investors believe the future will bear rich dividends. No wonder the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation agreed this week to fund a number of water projects for four years in Aswan, one of the provinces most neglected by the former regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party are marking the second anniversary of the revolution with the launch of a national campaign called "Building Egypt Together". It has two principal objectives for civil society: to secure the rights of the people and to assume collective responsibility for development.

More than 800 civil society organisations have committed themselves to three key projects in all of Egypt's provinces. They will focus on development in the environment, health and education. Convoys will visit the provinces and help to develop health services and plant of over 500,000 trees. A total of 1,800 schools will be refurbished and equipped across the country.

In order to be truly effective, this campaign cannot be short-lived; it must be sustained and become the engine for future development. Moreover, the challenge of national renaissance is not the responsibility of government or the ruling party alone. Everyone must be brought into the process of nation-building. It will succeed if it is genuinely national and not partisan; organised and not anarchic; popular and not elitist.

During the last two years, there were also notable advances in personal freedoms, as illustrated by the mass demonstrations and rallies in public squares. Unlike under the former regime, the police and security forces did not intervene to crush dissent or opposition.

In this context, President Morsi, who has been in office for just seven months, must be credited for ending rule by military council, sending its former leaders into early retirement and freeing the army to assume its natural role beyond the political arena.

Despite the writing of a new constitution and its endorsement in a national referendum, however, Egyptian society appears to have become increasingly polarised with liberals, leftists and secularists pitted against Islamists.
President Morsi must share the blame for this because of the manner in which he took certain crucial decisions, notably regarding his executive powers and the row with elements in the judiciary. Had the decision-making process been more transparent he could have avoided some of the confrontations witnessed in late 2012. He must, therefore, as a matter of urgency convince the Egyptian people that he is president for all and not only Islamists.

Externally, Egypt's restoration as a pivotal player in the region is, arguably, one of the main achievements of the past two years. Its handling of the region's central issue, Palestine, has confirmed that it is no longer the enemy of the resistance as it was under Mubarak. It has also pursued the goal of Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Given the enormity of the challenges, it is much too early to judge Egypt's revolution and its first post-revolution government. The importance of the success of both can be neither overstated nor undervalued, for the extent of regional changes depends a great deal on Egypt's 25 January Revolution.

AfricaCommentary & AnalysisEgypt
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