Democracy In Egypt Begins With Economic Freedom

There are many voices offering suggestions on the next steps Egyptians should take to regain their footing and restore stability. As important as it is to establish a path forward, it is necessary for all to look backward to gain a better understanding of how Egypt arrived at this point in its history.

Arab Spring: A Desire For Economic Freedom
In an article in The Spectator, Hernando de Soto puts forward the notion that the roots of the revolutions in the Middle East are economic in nature, not religious. Both literally and figuratively. In literal terms, it the dramatic images of Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi setting himself alight that sparked the Arab Spring in 2010. His protest was not about religion, but about a lack of economic freedom.

According to De Soto, who spent almost two years in the region, Bouazizi was not alone. In the two months following his death, no fewer 63 men and women in several nations replicated his protest. All were employed, but felt stymied by a lack of economic freedom and access to ownership that is common in Egypt and other Arab nations.

“It is about the identities, contracts, rules, credit guarantees and documented information that allow entrepreneurs to join people, things and capital into more valuable combinations. These tools, essential to escape poverty, lie out of reach for most Arab entrepreneurs. In Egypt, for example, to legally own a small business such as a bakery requires dealing with 29 different government agencies and navigating 215 sets of laws. In Arab countries, the poor entrepreneur’s right to transact derives from the goodwill of local authorities, not the law,” De Soto writes.

Egypt’s Economic Problems Need To Be Eased Before Democracy Can Grow
The challenge for Egypt, writes David P. Goldman, is trying to reverse decades of flawed economic policy that has left Egypt “ill-prepared” to compete in a global economy. According to Goldman, a fellow at the Middle East Forum and the London Center for Policy Research, 45 percent of Egyptians are illiterate and third of college-age citizens are registered for university, but only half graduate.

The lack of education is one reason that only half of the 51 million Egyptians between the ages of 15 and 64 are counted in the government’s measure of the labor force.

This theme is echoed by Ghada Barsoum, an assistant professor in public policy at the American University in Cairo. The concern among Egypt’s working class is not only the inability to obtain a job, but to obtain a good job.

“While unemployment is a problem that primarily affects young and first-time entrants to the labor market, low productivity jobs within the informal economy are a long-term problem with serious impact on Egyptians’ access to social security and other work benefits. If unemployment is a problem that affects youth currently seeking employment, work informality and low job quality are
issues that also affect their future,” Barsoum notes in an article in the Cairo Review Of Global Affairs.





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