Egypt: the path forward

By M. Shafik Gabr
March 22, 2011

The legitimate demands of the Egyptian protestors have been heard loud and clear, and an irrevocable process of change is now underway. But we should have no illusions. There are malevolent forces both inside and outside Egypt that will try their level best to hijack this process of change and twist the people's revolution to suit their destructive needs and agendas. When fear, uncertainty, witch hunting and a "mob rule" mentality prevail, the door is opened for autocracy to be established under the facade of democracy, and for social intolerance to be imposed under the guise of people empowerment.

We must not let this happen. As we move forward, all Egyptians must be vigilant to ensure that the unfolding process of change remains true to the vision of the protest movement and results in a truly democratic Egypt, free of corruption, with a vibrant job creating economy and an open and tolerant society which provides freedom and dignity to all, irrespective of class, religion, ethnicity or sex.

The process of establishing a new governing framework will be by its very nature complex and occasionally messy. As we work our way through this process, I would humbly offer the following four principles which I believe must form the foundation of the new Egypt we are building. If our new governing and societal framework reflects these principles, then I would feel extremely confident about Egypt's ability to take a major step forward. If any of these principles are absent, I fear we will have opened the door to those vested interests which stand to profit from turmoil.

  • Free and fair elections: If we don't get this right, all will be lost. Egypt's elections must set a standard in the region for honesty and openness. We must adhere to the highest international standards, and impartial independent observers must be on the ground in force to definitively certify the integrity of the process. The true will of the people must be reflected in the election results. If there is even a hint of a possibility that the elections have been rigged, all of the potential gains of the protests will evaporate and Egypt will lurch backwards rather than forward.

  • Law and order: On the most basic human level, societies require law and order to be able to function. People need to feel secure in their homes, in the streets and in their work places. Property and individual rights must be protected, the laws must be clear and law breakers must be punished. The Egyptian people must feel that they live in a fair and a secure society, where if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. Moreover free media is essential for a free society but with freedom comes accountability and responsibility which denies free for all witch hunting and settling of scores. Without law and order, we will have no foundation to build on future free and prosperous Egypt for today and future generations.

  • Back to work: One of the driving forces behind the protest movement was the immense frustration over high unemployment in Egypt, especially among young people. Ironically, in the short term, the protest movement actually exacerbated this problem by bringing business to a grinding halt. Now is the time for all Egyptians to leave behind demonstrations, protests, strikes, sit ins, etc and to return to the business of work, and to building an economically strong Egypt. Businesses, banks and the stock market must all continue their return to normal operations. I suggest instead of five day work weeks we should consider six day work weeks - for a period - to catch up.

  • Rebuild investor confidence: In order for Egypt to prosper and for businesses to be able to create the jobs we so desperately need, investors (both national and international) need to feel confident about Egypt's direction and business environment. Uncertainty and mixed signals will stop investors dead in their tracks every time. Now is the time for us to be sending out strong signals that Egypt is once again open for investment and business. We also need to unambiguously reaffirm our commitment to market principles and the rule of law and provide a compelling invitation for investors to become part of Egypt's growth story. Banks must return to their normal functions with no restrictions. Stock exchanges must be allowed to re-open. Maintaining non transparent restrictions is self defeating.

For the first time in many decades, Egypt's future is now in the hands of the Egyptian people. The decisions we collectively make in the weeks and months to come will determine whether we look back on the events of January and February as a bright, shining success or as a fleeting moment of hope that was quickly extinguished. We must proceed with wisdom. And let us have no illusions about the determination and intentions of those who stand to profit from unrest rather than order.

M. Shafik Gabr is Chairman and Managing Director of the Cairo-based ARTOC Group for Investment & Development, a multi-disciplined investment holding company. He is a renowned leader in international business and an accomplished philanthropist.