This Friday sees the opening of a much-publicized economic and trade conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. The Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC), personally hosted by Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, is meant to “highlight the extensive reforms the government has already implemented and showcase future reforms designed to restore fiscal stability, drive growth and attract investment.”
Mohamed El-Erian argued in his Bloomberg View column, that Egypt has the ability to leverage its positive growth trajectory in the second half of 2014 to reform subsidies, increase incentives for foreign investment, and direct efforts to building inclusive job growth in several key sectors: health, education, and housing, as well as infrastructure, and information technology.
The conference, however, will commence against the background of Egyptian instability. Security measures across the country are being stepped up prior to the conference in the wake of a campaign of bombings targeting Western business, according to the Financial Times. The Sisi regime has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the attacks, even as evidence points to “lone wolf” operatives or localized militant cells.
While the government goes to great lengths to justify its broad course of repressions against almost all forms of dissent by pointing to terrorist acts, the regime’s strategy for consolidation holds the seeds for future failure, setting the stage for a long-term erosion of public confidence in the ability of the state to deliver services.
These issues were recently laid bare in an article by Century Foundation fellow Michael Wahid Hanna (“Public Order and Egypt’s Statist Transition,” The Review of Faith in International Affairs), looking at how the military regime has continued to exercise power in an effort to prop up state authority and legitimacy, at the expense of the political and religious rights of ordinary Egyptians, especially religious minorities and other groups perceived as outside the mainstream.
While ostensibly focused on protection of the Egyptian state and, by extension, its people, such strategies will, in the long run, only drive a wedge between the two. As Hanna writes:
But it is the actual state of the Egyptian state that likely represents the chief vulnerability for Egypt’s rulers. While deploying the rhetoric of stability and public order to marshal support for the regime and to mark its enemies, it is the manifest deficiencies of the state and its performance that will create the possibility for future disillusionment and dissent.
While the purpose of the upcoming conference—generating economic growth—is essential to Egypt’s future, the reforms under way and planned for the future cannot, on their own, deliver the quality of governance that can ensure a brighter tomorrow for all Egyptians. That kind of transition is only conceivable if the current regime abandons its repressive course of action.
There is little evidence to suggest sustainable, inclusive economic growth can be achieved without political and security reform. The participants at the EEDC should keep the implications of those conclusions in mind during their consultations, lest positive changes in the economy lose their relevance in the face of stasis on political and security issues.