This new year Egypt faces several difficulties, economic, political, security, and regional. There’s no need to rehearse the well-known facts here. It's not important to assuage our conscience, deflect blame, or prove the soundness of our predictions for a bleak future. We must instead find a way forward.
Despite the grave challenges ahead, the threat of terrorism, economic crisis, and political turmoil, our greatest asset is that the Egyptian people still wants the state to succeed, stability to prevail, the economy to grow, and terrorism defeated.
Despite the difficulties of the past few years, Egyptians’ ability to endure and adapt has exceeded all expectations, and they’re still willing to make sacrifices. But it’s time for this patience to pay off, and to see an end to the thorny road trod by the state.
Of all the challenges facing the country, the most serious is the shift in Egyptian public opinion, which has abandoned the optimism of early last year for concern, anxiety, and eroded confidence in the state’s ability to address these challenges wisely or listen and engage with ordinary people’s problems.
This is dangerous for everyone, supporters and opponents of government policies, because a loss of hope and faith in the future frustrates progress and reform.
The state must therefore seize the opportunity offered by the new parliament and a new government to take stock and reconsider the wisdom of the same old policies, which will necessarily yield the same results.
I’m not referring here to the tinkering with tax rates or currency policy, issuing a new investment or industry law, or distributing some houses and plots of land. What’s required is a change in course and an end to the strife that impedes real development and durable security and stability.
To begin, the state needs to realize that social cohesion and support for leadership and institutions cannot be achieved by threat or repression, but only by opening up channels for understanding and participation, ending incitement and exclusion, respecting the law, and realizing justice.
This requires the state to regain the trust and participation of the youth, not by appointing a few young people to the parliament or official posts, not by releasing a handful of imprisoned youth while arresting others to take their place.
Young people must be allowed to participate in political, union, and civic activities, and restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful protest and association must be lifted.
Moreover, all those detained in connection with peaceful demonstrations or expression, must be released or pardoned, no matter how provocative or shocking their opinions may be.
The state must also initiate a genuine dialogue with the business community, investors, union representatives, and various economic interests.
More than a meeting between the president and a few business titans, it should include representatives of various federations and associations and give voice to the needs and expectations of large and small investors alike.
A real dialogue would allow the state to listen to citizens’ needs instead of issuing laws and unveiling surprise initiatives that garner media attention but not much else.
The state also needs to put an end to the score-settling in prosecution offices and courtrooms and resolve long-pending cases: criminals with proven involvement in murder, torture, or corruption should be punished and others freed knowing the state will not harass them or pry into whether they’re Islamists, secularists, or Mubarakists.
Instead it should protect them and encourage them to engage in political and economic activity and take part in building a new future.
In addition, the state must set media regulations and enforce them equally, to check the professional and ethical debasement of the Egyptian media.
What’s needed is not curbs on freedom of opinion or the press, but simply that the state stop using the media as a tool to shape and incite public opinion or harass anyone who strays from the state line.
That alone is enough to rein in the media, without need for new laws or the suspension of newspapers and television programs.
Finally, regardless of the flaws in the recent elections, the state must give the incoming parliament a real chance to choose its leaders and express its opinion and those of the voters.
It must support the legislature with information, respect its summonses and interpellations, and refrain from interfering in its affairs. The public should be allowed to judge the parliament, hold it accountable, and assess its performance if it abandons its legislative or regulatory role.
Can we hope that the page can be turned on the mistakes and missteps of all parties and that a fresh start be made toward a new consensus?
The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investment.