A decade or more ago, with international crises hitting the world, the question asked so often was: “Where is Egypt headed?” Now, the question is: “How will Egypt deal with the current crisis?” In both cases, the question is, indeed, ambiguous and equivocal.
Before the so-called Arab Spring, these questions were often an indication of surprise and doubt that Egypt will be able to catch up with the contemporary world or will remain as is, squandering progress here and there without having the will to achieve a breakthrough in a world where competition and acceleration are distinctive features. Rarely, our willingness to afford the price of change and the breakthrough to haul distant dreams and make them real was questioned.
Examples were given, though, of the sacrifices that Europe made during the Industrial Revolution (Charles Dickens’ novels of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield were popular among the 23 July Revolution generation), that Japan made after being hit by nuclear bombs, and that South Korea made after the grinding World War II and the Korean War. Verily, every single developed nation has a story of blood, ethnicity, and tears hidden behind. The story of Egypt? Well, its past chapter was full of sacrifices in the struggle against colonialism, Zionism, and imperialism. In modern times, dreams seemed on the way of coming true, through Egyptian ingenuity embodied in one leadership of another or Arab unity that exuded progress.
Peace with Israel brought the “the drive to stay competitive” to the table of Egyptian politics, which gave rise to projects revolving around the Suez Canal axis development and a community groups formed to reflect on “global competitiveness” but the question of how to achieve this and enter competition remained unanswered, together with lots of good intentions.
These ideas were never time-bound. At a time of escaping the cost of liberalism, “democracy” was sought as the gateway to prosperity and wealth.
Following the end of the Arab spring with the closing Brotherhood scene and the subsequent violence and terrorism, it wasn’t the general public that tackled the crisis but rather the political and military leadership that made the necessary sacrifices to consolidate the pillars of the state, calling called for reforming religious discourse and starting large-scale building. Then came Egypt’s Vision 2030, which represented a document for change for Egypt’s leadership and elite. Its implementation has been manifested in the successive achievements on the ground, as if there is a magic stick capable of resurrecting cities and establishing lives without toil and effort. The big finale is the “project” of building the state. The story however –and the toil behind it– remained invisible, only recognized in the nature of things.
The story of what followed afterwards, starting from the digging of the new Suez Canal until the unofficial opening of El Alamein, remained unknown and the price paid. When the “pandemic” out broke, it was addressed the same way terrorism was countered, i.e. fighting the crisis while continuing development. It was sufficient to feel satisfied given the sustaining development despite affliction, still without making known the story behind it or the price of success.
Now the world is facing two major crises, the first is a cosmic one related to survival or destruction and is clearly manifested in pandemics and global warming, and the second is international. i.e. the Ukraine crisis, that has been going on for over six months and doesn’t seem to be ending soon. Overall, crises and wars usually end in one of two ways: either one of the warring party achieves victory over the other, as has been manifested in the World War II and the American Civil War, or no party achieves decisive victory or defeat, leading to some sort of negotiation that reflects the balance of power and the desire to end the conflict. Overall, the balance of power [in wars] is determined by three main elements, namely initiative, enduring attrition, and persistence. These three elements are sufficient to strike a balance. Applying this to the Ukraine war, we find that Russia, with its population and vast territory, has enough to withstand the economic boycott and mobilize resources to continue fighting, while Ukraine is receiving financial, technological, and strategic support from the West that enables it to continue fighting and has enough historical drivers to refuse returning to the Russian fold.
The crisis has had an impact on all countries of the world, including Egypt, which was affected in three aspects: 1) energy, a two-faced crisis that brought about price increases in some countries due to scarcity of energy resources, on the one hand, and more income for oil-producing countries (sales of oil-producing countries amounted to $1.3 trillion), 2) food, which is a critical concern for Egypt, particularly with Russia and Ukraine being among the largest food exporters, and 3) supply chains, with Egypt’s industrial sector relying on importing raw materials, let alone the substantial deficit in the trade balance, which further complicates the current crisis.
In this vein, Egypt can, through the United Nations (specifically the upcoming September session) or its diplomatic contacts with affected countries that have nothing to do with the war (e.g. India, South Africa, and European and Asian countries) advocate for the cessation of the war, capitalizing on its assets, moral and political expertise, and its hosting of COP27 which can’t produce positive outcomes without international cooperation, in which the United States, Russia, and China are proper parties.
Egypt can also turn to regional cooperation to make up for having to deal with the international system. Perhaps the El Alamein five-party Summit and the Jeddah Summit suggest that a “new regionalism” is taking shape towards preventing harm and bringing benefit. The ultimate goal? Bridging the gap through regional sources, regardless whence they come. Domestically, there is a need to continue development while adapting to deal with existing vulnerabilities, particularly regarding attracting hard currency, export, energy, and wheat. Above all, a strategy that hits the nail on the head is needed to make the public acquainted with the ongoing effort, available options, and the unavoidable sacrifices to be made.
This article was originally published in Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.