Egypt's Africa Problem
Analysis: While everyone from Chinese to Turks is busy profiting from Africa's newfound economic growth, Egypt has been slow to capitalize on opportunities on its own continent. It's a question of both initiative and identity for a count
CAIRO - With the shock of the 2008 financial crisis still reverberating, and more recent sovereign debt crises threatening Europe, more and more investors are looking to Africa as the last great frontier. The continent is seen as rich in potential returns on investment, abundance of resources, and room for economic growth.
All of this is especially pertinent to Egypt ― a country that has long considered itself as a continental leader and heavyweight. Two events ― South Africa's hosting of the World Cup and the current disagreement over the Comprehensive Framework Agreement on Nile water usage ― has Egyptians focused on a continent that it somehow does not yet fully embrace. The average Egyptian sees him or herself alternatively as Arab, Muslim, Christian or Egyptian before identifying as African.
As a nation, we Egyptians have always looked north and westward. We look at Europe in awe and fascination at their culture and development. We look to the United States for a long-deferred Free Trade Agreement and Qualifying Industrial Zones, industrial parks for manufacturing that have direct access to US markets. We trade in vast quantities with these two entities and seek out their know-how.
A former Egyptian leader Ismail Pasha once declared: "Our country is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe." But it is also a policy which has limited us, and provided an excuse for foreign powers to meddle in our affairs and control our economic decisions.
Why China and Turkey, but not Egypt?
Trade among nations fosters ties, builds lasting relationships and offers potential for alliances. And in trade with other African nations, Egypt has been lacking. Egyptian conglomerates of course do business with Africa; companies like El Sewedy, the Arab Contractors, as well as a plethora of agricultural organizations have a long-standing history of operating on the continent. The relationship is mutual. Infrastructure projects, for example, help develop African nations while bolstering these firms' bottom lines.
Still, Egypt's standing on the continent is in question and needs a whole new strategy. Countries like China, Iran, Israel and Turkey ― with no obvious historical ties to the area ― have raced ahead of us in cementing their links to the continent.
Our declining position in the Arab world mirrors our experience with Africa. Egypt is no longer considered a leader among Arab nations. And we are no longer, and perhaps never were, leaders in Africa. There was a time when we championed the cause of African independence movements, when we were concerned with continental security, when Egyptians were received cordially wherever they went on the continent; that is no longer the case.
Abandoning our strong ties to the continent has brought us no clear advantage with our ties to other regions; we are loathed in the Arab world ― at least behind the scenes ― and have failed to translate our cordial relations with the West into concrete progress. Many will argue that this was the fault of the previous Mubarak regime, which was only interested in remaining in power and not in genuinely developing the country. They may be right, but that doesn't mean we can't act now.
Our lack of interaction with the continent has placed us in the unenviable position of having to renegotiate the Comprehensive Framework Agreement in a haphazard fashion and from a position of weakness. All is not lost, though. The Nile treaty can be successfully negotiated and opportunities continue to abound for Egyptian individuals and organizations in Africa. In order to do so, we must rediscover our African connection.
Read the original article in Al-Masry Al-Youm
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