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Bread for the Masses: Economic Empowerment to Achieve Social Justice in Egypt

Posted on the 18 December 2014 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal

800px-The_lion_of_Egyptian_revolution_(Qasr_al-Nil_Bridge)-edit2

This is the third in a three-part series addressing recent findings of the Arab Barometer, whose objectives include the production of scientifically reliable data on the political attitudes of ordinary citizens. Read the previous two posts about the Arab Barometer findings in Iraq and Jordan.

“Bread, Freedom, Social Justice” was the unified chant that filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011. Almost four years later, this call for bread,– for dignified livelihoods — remains a driving force for sustainable economic reforms that can open financial opportunities for all citizens, create jobs for the burgeoning youth population, bolster the suffering economy, and ultimately take steps towards achieving social justice in Egypt.

Social justice is a term often used in Egypt’s post-2011 public discourse; unfortunately, however, this discourse noticeably lacks a definition of social justice and its implications for policy. Recognizing this, Egyptian opinion leaders gathered earlier this year at the New Egypt Forum, CIPE’s national-level, multi-stakeholder dialogue, to define social justice based on the existing conceptions of it and to form policy recommendations that would foster an environment for it.

They found that social justice is tied to equal treatment and opportunities under the law, especially with regards to economic opportunities that enable dignified livelihoods. In turn, these Egyptian thought leaders developed a multi-pronged strategy that utilizes economic reforms in the government, state budget, and investment climate as a means towards achieving social justice in Egypt.

The recent findings of the Arab Barometer, which gauges citizens’ politically-relevant attitudes through public opinion research, echo this linkage between social justice and economic reform, which thought leaders at CIPE’s New Egypt Forum highlighted. When presenting the Arab Barometer in late October, co-Principle Investigator Amaney Jamal defined social justice calls for “bread” as symbolizing better economic opportunities, freedoms and the respect of rights, and dignity in the economic and political spheres. The findings revealed that for citizens in the region, social justice is manifested in economic equality and opportunities, dignity through earning a livelihood, transparency, and decreased corruption. In fact, Egyptians’ key concern is their economic situation, with about 85 percent identifying it as one of two main challenges facing Egypt.

In turn, to determine the possible consequences of the economic situation on Egypt’s future, the Arab Barometer asked respondents whether or not they thought about emigrating. A little less than one-quarter said yes; however, the disaggregated data revealed an alarming trend. When disaggregated by age, the data showed that one-third of Egyptians ages 18-29 consider emigrating to seek economic opportunities elsewhere. When disaggregated by protester and non-protestor, the former of which were more likely to be middle-class, well-educated youth, the data revealed that 45 percent of protesters consider emigrating, compared to only 20 percent of non-protesters.

In short, the lack of economic equality and opportunities in Egypt is pushing the youth, who constitute over 30 percent of the population, to consider emigrating in search of an environment conducive to actualizing their potential. And there is no lack of potential among Egyptian youth, with the Middle East and North Africa witnessing the fastest growth of entrepreneurship in the world largely due to its innovative youth population. Additionally, there is no lack of potential among Egyptians and others from the region in general, considering that the median household income of Arab Americans is about $4,500 more than the national median. So, why is it that Egyptians can attain this type of success in the U.S., but not in their homeland?

Egypt’s high barriers to market entry and business growth inhibit its well-educated, innovative youth and general population from actualizing their potential and contributing to Egypt’s economic growth in  the way necessary to achieve social justice. More inclusive economic policies would go a long way in empowering all Egyptians to benefit from equal financial opportunities, to create sustainable jobs for their communities, to bolster their country’s economy, and ultimately to fulfill the unified call for “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice.”

AnnaMaria E. Shaker is a Program Assistant for the Middle East & North Africa at CIPE.


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