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February 24 2011

Thoughts from the Chairman: "Egypt: The Path Forward"



ARTOC Group's Chairman & Managing Director Honored by the American Folk Art Museum of New York City

The three weeks of largely peaceful protests and demonstrations in Egypt -- which riveted world attention, and eventually culminated in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak -- have given rise to a sincere sense of hope and optimism in Egypt; a genuine belief that we can create a better country and build a better life for all Egyptians. The legitimate demands of the protestors have been heard loud and clear, and an irrevocable process of change is now under way.

And while it is only natural to feel a certain exhilaration – as was so plainly evidenced in the celebrations in Tahrir Square -- it is important that we not get carried away on a wave of euphoria or naiveté. We must be mindful of the fact that the most important aspect of this remarkable story – what kind of a society and governing structure will succeed the Mubarak regime – is yet to be written.

We should have no illusions. There are malevolent forces both inside and outside of Egypt that will try their level-best to hijack this process of change and twist the people’s revolution to suit their own destructive needs and agendas. There are vested interests which stand to gain from a vicious circle of instability and mayhem. We have already seen their handiwork during the protests: police stations burned in a seemingly coordinated manner and violent criminals set free to rampage in the streets.

When fear, uncertainty, and a “mob rule” mentality prevail, the door is opened for autocracy to be established under the façade of democracy, and for social intolerance to be imposed under the guise of people empowerment.

We must not let this happen. As we move forward, all Egyptians must be vigilant to ensure that the unfolding process of change remains true to the vision of the protest movement, and results in a truly democratic Egypt, free of corruption, with a vibrant job-creating economy, and an open and tolerant society which provides freedom and dignity to all, irrespective of class, religion, ethnicity, or sex.

To be sure, the process of establishing a new governing framework will be by its very nature complex and occasionally messy. A range of legitimate but divergent viewpoints will need to be accommodated, and the exact shape of what is to come is impossible for any of us to predict at this point.

Nonetheless, as we work our way through this process, I would humbly offer the following four principles which I believe must form the foundation of the new Egypt we are building. If our new governing and societal framework reflects these enduring principles, then I would feel extremely confident about Egypt’s ability to take a major step forward. If any of these principles are absent, I fear we will have opened the door to those vested interests which stand to profit from turmoil.

• Free and fair Elections: If we don’t get this right, all will be lost. Egypt’s elections must set a new standard in the region for honesty and openness. We must adhere to the highest international standards, and impartial independent observers must be on the ground in force to definitively certify the integrity of the process. The true will of the people must be reflected in the election results. If there is even a hint of a possibility that the elections have been rigged, all of the potential gains of the protests will evaporate, and Egypt will lurch backwards rather than forward.

• Law and order: On the most basic human level, societies require law and order to be able to function. People need to feel secure in their homes, in the streets, and in their work places. Property and individual rights must be protected, the laws must be clear, and law-breakers must be punished. Corruption, on a both a grand and small scale, must no longer be tolerated. The Egyptian people must feel that they live in a fair and a secure society, where if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. Without law and order, we have nothing to build on.

• Get Egypt back to work: One of the driving forces behind the protest movement was the immense frustration over the unacceptably high unemployment rate in Egypt, especially among young people. Ironically, in the short term, the protest movement actually exacerbated this problem by bringing business to a grinding halt. Now is the time for all Egyptians to leave the public squares, and to return to the business of work, and to building an economically strong Egypt. Businesses, banks, and the stock market must all continue their return to normal operations. Instead of five day work weeks we should consider six day work weeks to catch up.

• Rebuild investor confidence: In order for Egypt to prosper, and for businesses to be able to create the jobs we so desperately need, investors (both international and domestic) need to feel confident about Egypt’s direction and business environment. Uncertainty and confusion will stop investors dead in their tracks every time. Now is the time for us to be sending out strong signals that Egypt is once again open for business. We need to unambiguously reaffirm our commitment to free market principles and the rule of law, and provide a compelling invitation for investors to become part of Egypt’s remarkable growth story. Banks must return to their normal functions with no interference and restrictions. Stock Exchanges must be allowed to re-open. More nontransparent restrictions are self defeating.

 

For the first time in many decades, Egypt’s future is now in the hands of the Egyptian people. The decisions we collectively make in the weeks and months to come will determine whether we look back on the events of January and February as a bright, shining success, or as a fleeting moment of hope that was quickly extinguished. Let us proceed wisely. And let us have no illusions about the determination and intentions of those who stand to profit from upheaval rather than order.