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March 17, 2010

Political program for Egypt's next president

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Egypt's presidential election is due in the fall of 2011. Current president Hosni Mubarak, 81, will likely run again, although a less likely scenario has him going into retirement thus paving the way to his son Gamal, currently the General Secretary of the Policy Committee of the governing National Democratic Party.

In both scenarios a strong candidate is Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

No matter who wins, here’s a proposed 2020 political program for the next president:

Increase exports in services, goods and trained professionals

• Egypt could become a Top-10 tourist destination. The country has sun, mild weather, hospitality, and excellent beaches on both the Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts. It also has excellent spots for deep sea diving, and above all the world’s largest Ancient Egyptian, Coptic, and Islamic monuments and historical sites.

The current Top-10 tourist destinations are France, Spain, U.S., China, Italy, U.K., Germany, Austria, Turkey and Ukraine. Egypt ranked 23rd in its best year. Tourism generated US$856 billion worldwide in 2007, and $10.8 billion for Egypt in 2009 (nearly 11% of GDP). With good marketing it can have an annual average increase of 30%, reaching $200 billion by 2020.

• Income from the Suez Canal was $5.5 billion last year. Promoting the canal as an efficient means of transporting goods from the Middle and Far East to Europe and avoiding the problem of piracy could increase revenue by a similar average of 30% per year, reaching $100 billion by 2020.

• Trained professionals working abroad brought in $4.6 billion in 2009. This could increase dramatically as African, Arab, Muslim and European countries are in great need of highly qualified professionals especially engineers. Egypt’s population is expected to be 100 million by 2020. This sector can bring in $100 billion by 2020.

• Have the best environment policy among developing nations, including being a world leader in alternative energy. Oil and gas sales amounted to $9 billion in 2009. An aggressive plan to link this sector with electricity from alternative energy like nuclear, wind and solar power could increase revenue by an average of 30% annually and reach $200 billion by 2020.

• Corruption in the privatization of public companies and the selling of mobile operator licenses and land sales must stop. The government should be a shareholder and in these areas and there must be transparency. A zero-tolerance to corruption must be enacted. In this manner, Egypt could recover billions in lost assets and revenue.

• In other sectors, Egypt should strive to be the Arab world’s leader in industries such as movies, media, TV and book publishing, and become a top-10 country in computer software, joining the new entry, India.

Increase investment in education, training and healthcare tenfold

Egypt needs a national budget for research and development at 3% of GNP. Egyptian universities must be accredited by international bodies for the academic degrees they award especially professional degrees in engineering and medicine.

Attain self-sufficiency in food production

The country imports more than 50% of its food including wheat, corn and meat. Last year's inflation rate for food is19% in the countryside and 23% in cities while it reaches 69% in the case of fresh vegetables and 38% in the case of fresh fruits. Egyptians have a poor diet, along with the fact that more than 20% of them smoke lead to billions spent in health care and lost productivity. Making the situation worth is a high pollution for the most of the year in big cities.

Sinai

To ease crowding in the Nile Valley, the Sinai’s population should be increased to 10 million by 2010 (10% of the population) from its current level of less than 500,000.

Social justice policy

More than 40% of Egyptians are poor, earning less than $2 a day. Some reports estimate the percentage is much higher (over 50%) and increasing. Egypt has seen unprecedented numbers of strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations by workers in both private and public sectors. The percentage of poor could be significantly reduced with a more equitable distribution of wealth, including establishing a minimum wage and capping salaries at say 100 times of that wage.

• Establish Bait-al-Zakah as a non governmental organization with a government representative to collect Zakah money from the country’s rich and distribute it to have-nots, including newlyweds, needy students and the unemployed.

Eliminate the deficit and debt

Egypt’s debt is on the order of $100 billion, and has reached 100% of GNP in the last few years while deficit averaged at 17%. Both the deficit and the debt must be aggressively reduced and eliminated.

End American aid

Egypt’s foreign policy is held hostage to the U.S. because of $2 billion in annual aid, $1.5 billion of which is for military hardware. In 10 years, Egypt could diversify its sources of military hardware and eliminate the US aid.

Speed up democratic reform

Democratic reform must be accelerated and include a two-term limit for holding the presidency, and an independent committee of judges to register new political parties and monitor free elections. Mayors, governors, Grand Mufti, Sheikh Al-Azahr, academic deans and university presidents must also be elected, rather than appointed. Furthermore, all political prisoners must be set free and accommodation with the largest political group in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood, must be a high priority. Emergency law must come to an end and civil liberties must be expanded.

The 2020 plan offered above might seem optimistic but Egyptians can do it if and only if they have the right president.

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