Legislators outline economic priorities

With elections for the People’s Assembly completed, there was a heavy turnout at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza ballroom on January 15 to hear six newly elected parliamentarians outline short-term legislative priorities and their plans for the ailing Egyptian economy.

The distinguished audience, which included US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, heard from Mohamed Gouda of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Nour of Al-Nour Party, Mohamed Kamel of the New Wafd Party, Bassel Adel of the Free Egyptians Party, Essam Soltan of Al-Wasat Party and Amr Hamzawy, an independent from Heliopolis. The panel was introduced by AmCham President M. Gamal Moharam and the discussion moderated by Hanie Sarie-Eldin, AmCham vice president of legal affairs.

Speaking order was determined by the number of seats each party holds and each participant was allocated 10 minutes.

Gouda, whose Freedom and Justice Party controls about 46 percent of seats in the assembly, began by emphasizing that solving the country’s economic problems and guaranteeing social justice will require the cooperation of all Egyptians, hand-in-hand. He said Freedom and Justice would acknowledge and respect the “economic freedom” of all people.  The top priority, he said, is restoring domestic security, political stability and institutional reform, to eliminate corruption and establish respect for the rule of law. But constitutional reform must precede political and economic reform, Gouda said.

In order make the economy productive, he said the government needs to pursue projects that would exploit the advantages of Egypt’s location. He cited tourism as “one of the most important sectors,” saying Egypt should have a goal to attract 50 million tourists annually within 10 years.  Finally, reform of the agriculture sector is crucial because it would not only benefit Egypt as a whole, but improve the lives of the country’s impoverished rural population, he said. “Who knows the nature of domestic challenges better than us?” Gouda said, referring to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization behind the Freedom and Justice Party. Nonetheless, he added that no single political party can turn the country around on its own and called for cooperation.

Nour said the message of Al-Nour Party is that clean water, good education and medical care must be available for all Egyptians. “I believe I represent the absent voice among us,” he said. “The former regime isolated Egyptians from each other… put a barrier between the people and the business sector.” Nour said his party aims to rebuild bridges between “the dreams of people” and the business community, saying all people have the right to work and enjoy the benefits of their work.   

Another priority is the war against corruption that is “deeply rooted” and threatens the dream of a New Egypt, Nour said, citing the need for an independent judiciary system.
“We want a developed Egypt” in which all Egyptians share in the benefits. “The community will not assist you unless they feel they are a partner,” he said.

Mohamed Kamel said the New Wafd Party supports a free market economy with a social dimension, especially access to a quality education for all Egyptians. To achieve economic health and attract investment, he said, public safety must be restored by a restructuring of the police and security forces. The state needs to respect its agreements and pledges, and provide a stable legal system and independent judiciary that resolves cases in a fair and timely manner, he said.

Like the other panelists, Adel, of the Free Egyptians Party, voiced support for a free market. He urged simplification and streamlining of “complicated” laws and regulations that adversely affect the economy, as well as more transparency and better access to economic information. The party supports pursuing projects that tap into Egypt’s potential, such as phosphate mining in the Sinai and development of the east bank of the Suez Canal at Port Said. In addition, there should be a supportive environment for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are a key to job creation and economic growth, he said.

Soltan of Al-Wasat Party said restoration of security should be the top priority, then yielded the floor to Yehia Aboul Wafa. Wafa cited an HSBC study touting Egypt’s future economic potential, and said there must be reform of the tax system to make it more equitable and increase revenue. Another priority of the party is closing the country’s budget deficit, Wafa said.

Finally, Hamzawy likened Egypt’s economic performance to someone walking with one leg, saying addressing the deteriorating economy was the main responsibility of the legislature.  During the first six months, he said allegations of corruption, especially in the privatization program, must be addressed and security re-established. In addition, Hamzawy called for clarification of Egypt’s “jungle of laws” and support for SMEs. He also encouraged the audience to be engaged in the legislative process by offering input on ideas and proposals, as well as direction.