In Egypt, democracy is the only solution
News agencies reported last month that President Mubarak ordered the army to intervene to resolve what has come to be known as the “bread crisis” in Egypt. For the past few weeks, thousands of Egyptians failed to find subsidized bread and queues in front of bakeries witnessed mounting levels of violence, eventually leading to tens of deaths and injuries preceding Mubarak”s decision.
Egyptians are heavily dependent on subsidized bread (“eish, or living as they call it) as the main component of their daily meals (or perhaps their single meal in most cases). Despite being poorly baked and of diminishing size, these loaves are what most Egyptians could provide for their families, or at least this was the case until the recent events.
We are now witnessing the peak of Egypt”s economic crisis. Oil, sugar and bean prices have increased five fold in the past six months, denying most Egyptians the ability to eat more than one meal per day. Steel prices have quadrupled over the past year, adding millions of pounds to the wealthy business crony and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz; a close friend of the President’s son Gamal Mubarak, also a leading figure in the ruling National Democratic Party.
But this poverty was neither unpredictable, nor is it the outcome of scarce resources. In his book “Mystery of Capital,” Hernando de Soto argues that Egypt has multiples of the amount of wealth it needs to develop, and the 2002 Arab Human Development report sent alarming signals with its statement that the Arab world is richer than developed world.
It is the unbalanced distribution of wealth caused by economic liberalization in the absolute absence of political freedom, transparency and accountability that has led to the empowerment and maximization of wealth of the regime’s chosen business cronies who have completely detached themselves from society.
These economic hardships have caused overwhelming frustration to Egyptians over the past year. Thousands of workers and government employees have repeatedly gone on strike protesting low salaries, while doctors and university professors threatened to do the same.
The regime had to comply with workers and employees” demands, and promised to improve their financial position. Prime Minister Nazif and the Minister of Higher Education conducted a series of talks with university professors, while the regime threatened doctors with legal action if they went on strike, which the regime deemed unconstitutional. Aware of the possible consequences of challenging the regime”s security, and worried about the possible cost of that decision on their security, doctors complied.
But even security threats and emergency law were not enough to resolve the bread crisis. Poverty and starvation stemming from high levels of corruption and poor governance have left the vast majority of Egyptians with nothing to lose, and hence nothing to fear. They are willing to face security threats in their pursuit of a loaf of bread, because if they don”t get it they will die anyway.
Mubarak was left with no other option but military intervention to resolve an economic problem. Being Egypt”s fourth consecutive military ruler, he as willing as his predecessors to rely on the army to resolve internal conflicts.
He has a long history of using the army to crack down on his political opponents, with the military tribunal of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders the most recent example.
Prior to the final verdict which handed down prison sentences to 25 and acquitted 15, the detained leaders were acquitted at least four times by civilian courts, which praised them as “respectable businessmen, doctors, engineers and professionals,” and deemed the charges as “intentionally fabricated and politically motivated with no substantial evidence whatsoever.”
Yet Mubarak, intent on undermine his strongest civil opposition group, resorted to authorities given to him as Egypt”s military ruler by virtue of emergency law and transferred the case to a military tribunal, which lacks all guarantees for a fair trial. Sixty nine hearing sessions took place and the final verdict was adjourned twice before it was announced on April 15.
President Mubarak”s decision to resort to the army to resolve the bread loaf crisis did not only signify the regime”s failure, but also proved unfruitful in resolving the problem. Tens of Egyptians still struggle on a daily basis to secure a few bread loaves for their families and the April 6 nationwide strike protesting deteriorating life conditions only proves that security measures are incapable of resolving economic crises.
It is only transparency, accountability and separation between different branches of the state that can do so.
Imprisoning opposition leaders and confiscating their property will only deepen frustration and fury amongst Egyptian, and increase the tension and polarization between the regime and the country”s strongest opposition group.
Only democratic ballot boxes will pull Egypt from its current abyss. Compromising democracy for stability has proven to be a complete failure, for democracy is the only guarantee for political and economic stability.
Ibrahim El Houdaiby is a board member of ikhwanweb.com, the Muslim Brotherhood”s official English-language website. He has a BA in political science from the American University in Cairo and is working towards an MA in Islamic studies at the High Institute of Islamic Studies.