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February 2, 2017

Egypt's greatest challenges: The top four (Part 1 of 2)

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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My goal for the remaining years of my life is to use my experience and knowledge to help Egypt, the land where I was born and which I deeply love.

I grew up and lived there for the first 24 years of my life. Now in my retirement, I split my time between Egypt and Canada.

During my youth in Egypt I went through the fear and disruption of two major wars, in 1956 and 1967.

Now, nearly half a century later, many acts of terrorism within Egypt have taken their toll on my own family, as well as on neighbors, friends and colleagues.

In 2011 and 2013 I participated in two grass-roots uprisings, both supported by the Egyptian army, in which ordinary people in the recent one moved in solidarity to reclaim their country from a fascist religionist party; the Muslim Brotherhood.

While I’ve been inspired by the perseverance of the Egyptian people themselves, I have also witnessed some 50 years of lackluster government which, to avoid causing offense, failed to take decisive steps to restore the country’s stagnant economy.

These contrasting experiences of advocacy and apathy make me and other forward-looking Egyptians fully cognizant of the dangers threatening our country in the 21st century.

Yet I feel Egypt today is at an important watershed point, where both its people and their government share a more unified will than at any time in recent history.

Here are the top four challenges I see facing my birth country.

Terrorism: Without doubt terrorism, domestic and external, is the primary challenge facing Egypt.

The good news is that terrorism has never succeeded in achieving and sustaining its goals, whether governmental, ideological, economic or military.

Terrorists anywhere in the world face justice sooner or later. But it is also a long-term threat that can cripple victimized nations for decades at a time.

Since 2013 terrorist crimes in Egypt have been committed, inspired and/or planned by the Muslim Brotherhood and supported by foreign powers.

In just a few short years, MB terror strikes have cost hundreds of innocent Egyptian lives, injured thousands more, caused immeasurable human misery and cost millions of dollars in lost or destroyed property and infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, it is unrealistic in today’s world to dream of completely eliminating the global cancer of terrorism. Countries like France, Turkey, the United States, even Canada, are not immune to it, despite their collective resources. Egypt is no different.

Until the international community as a whole unites at all levels – political, military, economic – against terrorism, it will continue to exploit every opportunity to destabilize vulnerable states.

Egyptian politicians hope that the new American administration will contribute to global anti-terrorism efforts by officially listing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and make it a federal crime to financially support, or aid and abet terrorists at any level.

Over-consumption: Living beyond its means is the second major challenge facing Egypt and it’s coming at a high cost to the physical health of the population, as well as the health of its economy.

Today Egypt’s population leads all of Africa in rates of obesity – in fact, Egypt ranks 14th among the world’s most obese nations and a shocking 4th in the world for its sugar consumption.

These are not statistics to be proud of.

Over-consumption of both food and tobacco – 80% of which is imported – costs Egypt’s 90-million population billions annually in health-related expenses.

These include imported drugs, absenteeism from work, and premature death, all of which place huge stress on the country’s economy. The resulting trade deficit and steadily mounting national debt are robbing Egypt’s future generations of good education and health care.

The added challenge here is that more than 70% of the Egyptian economy is controlled by the corporate private sector whose chief interest is profit-making, not in changing the country’s out-of-control consumption habits.

When I discussed this chronic problem with one of Egypt’s leading journalists and asked how the media can help by increasing public awareness, she expressed doubt that this could ever happen. The Egyptian media is also primarily profit-driven; owners rely on advertising and advertisers promote consumption.

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