Tarek Osman: Will Egypt manage to move from limbo to stability?

My short email interview on Egypt with Tarek Osman who is the author of the book Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak

1. What is the biggest challenge for the future of Egypt right know?

The biggest challenge is a combination of demographics and socioeconomic conditions. Over 45-million Egyptians are under 30-years old; two thirds of them are in less than 20-years old. Given that Egypt’s educational system is severely lacking, and that the job market has many deficiencies – and with the current stagnation, this might now improve soon – the combination could be perilous. There is a lot of potential within that huge demographic segment, but if their energy is not put to productive means, there could be danger as well.

2. How would you evaluate the economic situation in your country?

There are serious fiscal and monetary problems facing the country. And there are reforms that need to be taken, though how to take these reform while keeping the social consideration in mind, is far from easy. But Egypt – unlike many other countries in the region – has a diversified, deep economy; a huge talent pool; very successful companies in a number of sectors; a high competitive cost base in a number of factors; a strategic location that allows it to be a hub for trading in the Arab world and in Africa. All of these are major positives that could be leveraged upon – if the current political polarization subsides.

3. What are the biggest assets of President Morsi and what about his biggest weakness?

His biggest asset is legitimacy. He is the first freely elected president in Egypt’s history. The main challenges facing him is to be a (if not the) leading figure that unites the country’s various political and social forces, amidst highly tense political milieu – and at a time when the country is facing serious economic challenges. Taking that leading role – and playing that role – amidst the current political confrontation deserves to be prioritized.

4. For many outsiders Egypt looks pretty chaotic. How would you describe the political system in Egypt at this moment?

In my book, I said that Egypt is in a “transitional limbo”. The question is whether it will manage to move from that limbo to stability, a functional political system, and to have its many, varied socio-political forces compete in a plural, tolerant, liberal society – even if there are key forces that have religious frames of mind. Or will the country get stuck in this transitional limbo, with the political polarization getting more intense and the economic challenges crippling the society, and especially the young segments.

5. How do Egyptian evaluate the revolution after 2 years? Do some people feel that they are losers of the revolution?

Some social segments, of course, faces short term economic costs because of the changes that took place over the past two years. Some economic and financial power centres are now being marginalised, and those are certainly losers in this transition. But the key point here is that the more legitimacy, plurality, genuine representation, and empowerment of the middle class there is in Egypt, the more the society as a whole will benefit. So far, and despite the severe problems and the often uninformed media coverage, the country has been moving in that direction. But if the economic challenges facing the country – or more crucially if the choices of the young Egyptians, this huge demographic segment – ventures into absolutism, exclusion, and intolerance, then the society would lose a huge part of the momentum that the transformation of the past two years have generated. In this regard, the social changes in Egypt – what is happening within the youths segment – is at least as important as the political developments. The determinants of the future in Egypt – and in most of the Arab world – will be social and cultural. In interested, check this recent article I wrote.

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