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THE ECOLOGICAL AND ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CHALLENGES AHEAD

Ecological challenges: Towards Sustainable Development

In terms of the rise in sea level, Egypt is the second most affected country from climate change, especially in the Nile Delta. Currently Egypt is using more resources and ecological services than its ecosystem can sustain within its borders. Additionally, the Nile is heavily polluted. Egypt, overall, lies below the official water poverty line with only 800 m3/year per capita. The biggest single water consumer is agriculture, using about 85 per cent of Egypt's water. As the efficiency of water use in agriculture is very low, there is great potential for future development through improving the irrigation system, but also in the water holding capacity of soils through improving soil structure. Because Egypt suffers from a delayed implementation of water pricing policies, the incentive to be more efficient, especially in agriculture, is still very low (6). However, once the right policies and incentives are set, new, less resource-dependent agricultural methods will be able to secure the future. War over the Nile's water cannot be the solution.

In 2008, Egypt became a net importer of oil. For the past five years, Egypt has been facing energy cuts on a regular basis. Again, the incentive to be more energy efficient and to develop renewable energy is very low, as Egypt suffers from high energy subsidies set at around LE 100 billion per year. Egypt has great potential in terms of renewable, especially solar, energy once the right policies and incentives are in place (6).

Economic Challenges: Overcoming Poverty

Currently, Egypt is confronted with major economic problems. The unemployment rate at the end of 2013 reached over 13 per cent. Most especially Egyptian youth are affected with more than two thirds of the 20-34 age-group unemployed (7). The resulting poverty and income disparity is also putting a lot of pressure on the current economic and political situation. In 2011 the World Bank classified 25 per cent of Egyptians as living below the national poverty line (8). Rising food prices make the situation worse.

Rising world food prices and limited water and agricultural land in Egypt, combined with population growth, climate change and continued desertification, are creating growing pressures on Egypt's ability to provide food for its people in the future. The high rate of subsidies for basic commodities like wheat, cooking oil and sugar makes the Egyptian government especially vulnerable to external price shocks. Under the current circumstances, food riots and social disruptions related to food security can only be limited by constantly increasing spending on subsidies. Given the country's high fiscal deficit, maintaining these subsidies seems impossible. Systemic change is needed to address this problem but a highly fragmented landscape of over 30 ministries and the absence of a functioning parliament since the 2011 revolution make any likelihood of strong political decision impossible.

For Ibrahim Abouleish, in the wake of the wrenching changes Egypt has undergone in the past three years, which have torn asunder its governmental and physical infrastructure, there is a dire need for the international community to put its weight behind the renewal of the country. The reclamation of parts of the desert, in the same way that Sekem has accomplished, as a means of environmental conservation and also the creation of livelihoods for millions of young people is a current imperative. Sekem is in ongoing conversations with the likely new decision makers in that respect.

Societal and Cultural Challenges

During the past century, Egypt has been destabilized through war and conflict as described above, the result of several military revolutions, militant Islamist activity, and the intensive Arab-Israeli conflict. As a result, education of the population was chronically neglected resulting in a relatively low literacy rate in 2012 of around 74 per cent, with women at only 65 per cent, according to the CIA Factbook (9). The public education system in general is very bad with underpaid teachers and overloaded classrooms. There is no real incentive for children to go to school and most of them cannot afford the expensive private lessons needed in order to pass the exams. This results in a relatively high official child labour rate. Additionally, people face health problems and a very inefficient public healthcare system.

For instance, Egypt has the largest burden of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the world, with a 10 per cent prevalence of chronic HCV infection among persons aged 15-59 years (10). Hypertension is also a common health problem in Egypt, often unknown by those affected (11).

Given the facts above, it is an achievement for Egypt that its new Constitution includes regulations for minimum spending from the state budget in relation to GDP for healthcare, education, free university education and scientific research.

Another challenge for the country is increasing division among its people. The political economist and documentary film author Asiem El Difraoui (12) published very recently a book titled: A New Egypt? Journey Through a County in Uprise in which he portrayed different kinds of Egyptians that represent the multifaceted society. He remarked on the fact that after the fall of Mubarak people realized that they don't know each other:

The salafists could not imagine that there were so many supporters of a liberal state open to the Western world. The secular Egyptians were very astonished about the huge number of salafists. Those who were part of the old regime could not imagine that they were hated so much. The Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood could not believe that the society would oppose them so strongly. The Army never thought about the people becoming so powerful and that they dare to oppose them. The police realized that they are not the Gods of Egypt but rather that people hate them. Everyone somehow got a bad surprise. One day all the people woke up and realized that they do not live alone in this country. "This is an Egypt that we don't know" can be heard a lot these days.

Creating a sense of unity among Egyptians must be a priority right now as well as overcoming secular and religious division. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood are officially forbidden again and rated as a "terrorist organization" does not help very much to achieve this. It is indeed clear that whoever will be Egypt's next president will have many missions impossible to be solved that cannot be tackled by only one sector alone, albeit that the new President has come from the military, namely General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The next section therefore considers his view on the path of democracy.

Political Challenges: The Long Way to Democracy

In 2006, Sisi wrote a paper titled "Democracy in the Middle East" (13) while studying at the U.S. Army War College. The basic message is:

[t]he existing conflicts and tensions in the area need to be resolved before democracy can be more fully accepted by the people. This form of democracy may well be different from the Western model especially with regard to the religious nature of the culture. A democratic system cannot be established over night because firstly the country needs to be organized in a manner to support a democratic form of government, and secondly internal and external security concerns have to be solved. Furthermore, the population needs to be prepared in order to take a participatory role in a democratic process, which requires time to educate them and a strong economy to provide incentives for being educated and improving conditions for the common man.

Furthermore, he writes: "Ideally, the legislative, executive, and judicial bodies should all take Islamic beliefs into consideration when carrying out their duties." He refers back to the Caliphate of early Islamic history and argues for the importance of a non-secular form of government that should respect people's religious beliefs. A first observation indicates that Sisi favours "stability" over the risks of liberalizing the political system which explains why he stands for a strong role of the military. At least in the current period of instability and insecurity this seems reasonable even though people are reminded of the argumentation of the old Mubarak regime. It gives a little hope to see in the Constitution that “the peaceful transfer of power" is foreseen. Another interesting observation in the context of the release of GENE-ius is that Sisi speaks of integrating Islamic values into a modern form of democracy, which is potentially what Sardar refers to (see Chapter 20) when he advocates using the Qur'an for guidance. This makes integral sense in terms of "grounding" the Egyptian politics, thereby affirmed in the new Egyptian Constitution:

Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic

Shari'a are the principal source of legislation. (Article 2)

Of course, releasing GENE-ius grounded in religion can only work if we are speaking of a modern, if not post-modern and open way of interpreting the Qur'an, as Sardar has exhibited, not confusing this with radical Islamic views. For such radical views aim to re-establish a caliphate based on Islamic Shari'a in the sense of "taqlid" (the established legal precedents and traditions). Reading Sisi, and the new Egyptian Constitution optimistically, we could see an attempt to provide space for an authentic, integral form of democracy to emerge. We now turn to our penultimate consideration of how Islam can translate into sustainable development, a declared aim for Egypt's economy and society, before we come to a final conclusion.

 
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