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CUMALİ ÖNAL

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CUMALİ ÖNAL
May 13, 2012, Sunday

Economy key for AK Party’s success, but what about for Egyptian leaders?

Egypt faces tough challenges in almost every area, from security to foreign policy and from politics to the economy, the latter being on the brink of total collapse.

This could be seen as normal and expected for a country like Egypt, which has been experiencing glimmers of democracy for just over a year.

However, if the transitional period is not handled carefully, the country could face a more chaotic situation than the current one in the near future. The forecasts and predictions suggesting that the country could be back on track within 10 years might be wrong and this process may last longer than expected. Does the situation seem good? Unfortunately, no.

How do we know this? Campaigns run by candidates running in the presidential elections to be held two weeks from now tell us so. The political leaders running for the office of the president of Egypt in the upcoming elections do nothing but give political messages, and they have been taken hostage by pure political rhetoric. The economy has no place in the candidates’ statements.

When the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of Turkey came to power in 2002, Turkey was the 26th-largest economy in the world. Right now, the country is the 17th-largest economy. With the hope of keeping this economic performance growing at its current pace, the AK Party aims to see Turkey among the top 10 economies in 2023, the centenary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.

As Turkey has implemented successful economic reforms, the AK Party has been able to increase its votes and make significant reforms in other areas. Thanks to its economic success, Turkey has appeared as a powerful country which has a say over global and regional politics.

There are a number of possible causes of this economic success. However, the foremost reason is the fact the AK Party prioritized the economy, among many other things.

The AK Party also eschewed populist policies and diligently struggled to avert political standoffs. Despite great pressure from the political establishment, the government did not give any concessions in its economic policies. This is exactly what political actors in Egypt should do.

Political rhetoric and messages will not help society feel relieved. Any real sense of relief will be achieved through economic plans which present a substantial solution to the economic woes of Egypt. Egyptian political actors should speak about solutions to economic problems. That’s where real leadership is tested.

Egypt is the 15th-largest country in terms of population, but it is the 43rd largest economy, lagging behind a number of small countries with a population of just a few million. Three out of four Egyptians are poor and these people struggle to get by on state subsidies, which, at $20 billion, represent one-third of the state budget.

The unemployment rate is around 12 percent; however, the real number could be almost double that officially announced. In addition, most employees are generally underpaid in comparison to world standards. Many workers have part-time jobs to overcome economic difficulties.

Investments almost stopped and Egypt faced a drastic decline in exports over the last year. The country stood in 63rd place in terms of exports. In such a situation, political actors running for president in Egypt should talk about the economy much more than other things, particularly empty rhetoric.

For instance, what are the proposals and plans of the candidates regarding these issues?

1. What kinds of measures will be taken to increase exports? Will Egypt remain a country which exports only gas and agricultural goods, or develop programs in order to make a transition to a high-tech economy?

2. What kind of formulas will be used to attract foreign investment?

3. What will happen to industrial zones which were jointly established with the US and Israel? Will similar projects be further improved or will they be consigned to the dustbin of history because of the Israel issue?

4. Will there be any reform of the banking system? What kind of banking system will be adapted to fit the country?

5. Will well-known Egyptian economists abroad call for economic assistance from the government?

6. What kinds of solutions will be proposed for subsidies, which constitute a great burden for the Egyptian economy?

7. Will there be any more cooperation with international organizations such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF)? To whom will the upcoming Egyptian administration go for economic help?

8. How will new employment opportunities be created? What will happen to state institutions which were replaced by civil servants working beyond their capacity in the Hosni Mubarak era?

9. What are the proposals for privatization [of some sectors and state-run companies]?

10. What projects are there for boosting income from tourism?

In conclusion, for Egypt, which has a dynamic and well-educated labor pool, it is not impossible to catch up with Turkey, South Korea, Brazil and Mexico, all of which have made substantial economic progress in recent years. When political actors move away from populist policies and face the real agenda of the people, they will be successful.

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