The Social Democracy Model in Egypt

Egypt currently lacks a vision for a future socio-economic framework built from the ideals of the recent revolution.

While the movement has achieved many things -- foremostly the ouster of an oppressive regime -- the state is not yet able to function in a fluid way. Thus the dilemma of meeting the demands for social justice and equity within the declining capabilities of both the state and economy is becoming more difficult.

The revolutionary movement, of course, spread as a reaction to socio-political deprivation and human rights abuses by the then-ruling government. As the revolution built steam, there was obvious progress towards stronger political inclusion, as outlined in the new political parties law, and a bettering of human rights abuses in the form of dissolving of the former state’s oppressive security authority. But successes have slowed as the state has had to take on more and more.

Thus, transforming Egypt from an authoritarian state will require a solid foundation based on comprehensive new visions towards an Egyptian model for a welfare state and social democracy. To do that, though, requires money, and many are asking where Egypt will get those funds to help a large group of people below the poverty line.

Generally social equity can be acheived by three approaches: empowerment, welfare, and a developmental state.

The empowerment approach was highly seen as a socially unviable model, since it was endorsed by Mubarak in his late years, especially in 1998. Critics bemoaned the negative impact of social equitable job creation. As a result, the third approach of a developmental state doesn’t have a popular appeal due to past failed experience.

This leaves the model of a welfare state as the untested middle ground that might appeal to the majority of Egyptians. However, even within the Egyptian Social Democrats Party --of  which I am a member -- there is no concrete vision about how the economy is going to be revitalized to support the funding of national social welfare programs and the expansion of public utility services. Moreover, the party members define themselves as a civil coalition of liberal and leftist activists rather than referring to themselves as social democrats.

The top concern for Egypt is the fact that nearly 40 percent of the population lives under the  poverty line. Since there is a lack of inspiring leadership or doctrine for the revolution, there are no broad visionary perspectives related to equitable social welfare improvement of the citizenry. The perspectives of both the common citizenry and public figures on this issue shows that they are stuck to calls for accountability and judgment of former corrupt officials as highlighted in the April 8 Tahrir square protests.

These calls are seen as a step towards reclaiming stolen assets transferred abroad, estimated to be $70 billion for Mubarak’s family alone. The bottleneck in the revolutionary movement now is the emergence of aspirations towards the improvement of standards of living for the average citizen without laying a vision for the foundation of the new system and the mechanism upon which social welfare and equity would be achieved in a sustainable non-populist sense.

On one hand, the general tendency of the current ruling military council and its affiliated appointed interim government reflects an inclination towards reactionary popular measures. This was reflected in the elimination of all forms of planned subsidy reforms and a gasoline subsidy write-off. These measures where coupled by the increase of public sector employees’ salaries and pensions by 15 percent which comprises about $1.096 billion, whereas the budget deficits escalated from an estimated 7 percent to more than 10 percent.

Political parties -- especially those under formulation -- lack a clear significant vision towards sustainable social inclusive economic growth. When I questioned several political opposition figures about their vision for Egypt's socio-economic model, I received answers revolving around social equity and justice without a clear founding comprehensive vision.

The current projections of future GDP growth rate in the country fell far behind those expected by analysts and set as a target by the former government (only 1 to 2 percent annual growth rate instead of the planned 4 to 6 percent growth rate). This entails a new challenge for the welfare model which goes beyond how to get or distribute money. Such challenges in both income generation and distribution may require a mix and match of the three approaches towards a socially empowering, economically developmental, and a welfare state.  

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