The Presidential Agenda
Whomever wins a prospective run-off in the Egyptian presidential election, they will be faced with an intimidating to-do list
If independent polls are correct, the second round of Egypt’s presidential election will pit Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party against Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister appointed by the country’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak. For the moment, let us set aside the finalists’ relative merits and focus instead on the Pharaonic theft and neglect of the Mubarak era and what must be done to reverse its consequences.
Whomever is elected shall become the steward to a population of some 86 million people, many of whom are illiterate, unemployed or both. As the final round is bound to be closely contested, the new president will enjoy the slimmest of mandates to revive Egypt’s inert economy, modernize its bureaucracy and rebuild its failing national infrastructure. To prevail, he must commit himself to the following to-do list:
- Conduct a national census for an accurate accounting of the number of Egyptians, their birth and literacy rates, income levels and age demographics.
- Flush to the surface, audit and tax an underground economy thought to be worth several times official estimates of economic output.
- Replenish the public accounts, beginning with a lopsided balance of payments and an exhausted foreign exchange reserve. Persuade a truculent and adversarial parliament that the International Monetary Fund is not an agent of Western imperialism but a badly need source of hard currency.
- Revive foreign investment despite significant political risk and a likely devaluation of the local currency.
- Domesticate and professionalize a corrupt military that, for the last eighteen months, has entrenched its influence over the nation’s security and intelligence agencies. Convince the public, to say nothing of the general staff, that its controlling stakes in everything from pasta factories to resort hotels are superfluous to, and a distraction from, the nation’s national security needs.
- Reform a network of subsidies that promotes waste and is heavily biased in favor of big business, such as cement and fertilizer manufacturers, at the expense of social welfare agencies and programs.
- Reduce and rebuild an obstructionist civil service, for decades the sinecure for an idle class of mid-level functionaries. Devolve authority away from the capital to the district and municipal level for the sake of efficiency and responsiveness.
- Establish an agricultural policy so the nation can, for the first time in decades, feed itself. Impose order on the farm belt by organizing the nation’s small growers, a potentially large source of employment, into collectives and prosecute those who forcibly evict them from the land.
- Provide incentives for both private and state-run banks to make credit available to small and mid-sized enterprises, the backbone of the economy.
- End the speculative construction of low-income dwellings, which have encircled the capital and other major cities with unsightly, shoddily built apartment blocks. Begin the process of dismantling and replacing them with integrated housing developments, complete with access roads, street lighting, sewage facilities and clean water.
Absent a relentless, multi-pronged assault on the Mubarak legacy, Egypt’s first freely elected president will most certainly be deprived of a second term. More importantly, the nation’s faith in democratic governance will be shaken, creating space for the worst of all possible outcomes: a man on horseback with seductively simple answers to unmet challenges.