During a long journey of service in the public sphere, Hossam Badrawi, the prominent politician and physician, has engaged in many vital roles in the fields of politics, education, writing and NGO activities.
The 65-year old statesman is the founder of both the Union Party and the Egyptian Council of Competitiveness ENCC. He also serves as ENCC honorary chairperson.
Badrawi, known for his reformist stances, chaired the defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) a few days before it was dissolved in April 2011, during the 18 days of the January 25th uprising which toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
When he was a Parliament Member and chairperson of the Education and Scientific Research Committee from 2000 to 2005, he launched several education initiatives aiming to improve Egypt’s educational system, both within the NDP and the parliament.
Additionally, he proposed many policy documents and reform plans for high school and university education, which, according to his personal website, “constitute the core of all current strategies of education nowadays.”
Daily News Egypt interviewed Hossam Badrawi to discuss the current Egyptian political scene, the status of NGO activities, and the new educational system. He also contemplated the country’s economic situation, the long-awaited local municipal elections, as well as the preparations of the Union Party which he chairs. The transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
Considering your expertise in education development, how do you view the new educational system?
It is very early to judge the new system. I am an optimistic person by nature, and I believe it is a promising plan on a theoretical level, regarding the concept of the digitalising the whole structure. I think this is just a part of the new educational method.
The scheme allows students to rely on technology in the educational process, which is good. But, it is still just an idea. When it is actually applied in reality, then I will praise it, but not before witnessing real measures or results.
The Ministry of Education’s efforts to offer high quality and equal opportunities for all students, as well as building their characters, are also still unclear for evaluation.
Parents are concerned about improving the school curriculum, but the point is not about the curriculum, it is about teachers themselves, and whether they are well-prepared to deliver knowledge to students. Teachers [should be] able to create a satisfactory atmosphere for students in order to build their characters.
You can have a doctor who will turn out to be a criminal or a terrorist. So, building the personality is more important than the curriculum, as it is the teacher’s responsibility.
Additionally, to help students being creative and innovative, the ministry must reach a balance between setting up a plan and opening the door for creativity. The more the state controls the educational system, the less innovation and creativity there will be.
Ahead of the expected local municipal elections, is your party ready to compete?
We are waiting for the local administrative law to be issued. But there are two points I would like to clarify. First, there is a constitutional pillar to transform from centralisation to decentralisation in five years. This decentralised administration means every governorate must have its own budget, elected local council, as well as rules.
In order to attend to health-care, education, transportation and sanitation, there is a need for social responsibility, and for local authorities to be held accountable.
Second, given the experiences of other countries, this transition to decentralisation takes time. In France, it took 20 years. I am very concerned that we might ruin the whole process of decentralisation if we do not prepare well for the election.
The election is not the solution, it is a part of a process which should be processed and followed by efforts. Regarding my party’s preparations, we are not ready. Nobody is ready if there is no law yet.
How is the absence of local municipal councils affecting political life in the country and the status of local neighbourhoods? Also, do you have any remarks on the local law?
Of course, the absence of local councils for the last 10 years has affected services. Moreover, the expected new councils might include young members without experience in dealing with such issues, but in any case, elections do no bring the best-qualified people into office. However, democracy requires elections, and we have no other option.
Concerning the law, I think it missed identifying authority roles, and it should stipulate that governorates must have fiscal and economic decentralisation.
How do see the current parliament’s performance? Given the number of independent MPs, do believe partisan politics is gradually disappearing?
I can’t evaluate the current parliament’s performance as I am not well informed of all that is going on inside it. Maybe there are good steps taken that I do not know about.
Traditional partisan politics are gradually disappearing in Egypt and in the whole world. These types of politics cannot be found anymore amid the rise of the social media effects, which offer direct communication between authorities and people.
In the past, this direct communication was only through a political party. Now, US President Donald Trump communicates with Americans via Twitter. Similarly, Egyptian officials do so.
Therefore, recycling the same policies and practices of needing to have a political party such as Al-Wafd Party and the NDP are no longer efficient. It is like taking the same action hoping for different results. Therefore, politicians need to discuss the balance of forces.
The world is currently ruled by four powers: the armed forces, theocratic ideologies, strong economic powers, or political ideologies such as communism. Such political ideologies collapsed, and we rejected theocratic ideologies. The armed forces, economic powers, and the civil society are what remain.
In the West, the three harmonised, however, in developing countries, civil society is weak, and not taken into consideration. The economic power [represented in businesspersons and corporations] is rejected, hence we do not have another option but the military.
Yet, the country’s management by the military is not sustainable. We need consistency between the military and civil society leaders, so we can apply a new democratic formula. I named it “the fourth generation of democracy”.
Because of the previous failed experiences, and the fact that democracy in the West is heading towards the far-right wing, political parties have lost their influence in convening people.
Do you not believe it is important for the next president to have a political party or organisation which supports him or her?
At first, you need to know what the president’s ideology before you elect him or her. I believe whatever the adopted ideology is, it should be left as soon as the president assumes office.
Eventually, I hope the current government is evaluated based on their application of Egypt’s Vision 2030 objectives. I suggest launching two monitoring initiatives, one for education and another for health-care. They will track tracking the efforts of ministers. This is the role of civil society.
The government is takes ambitious steps to reform the economy, are you optimistic or concerned?
I believe that the Egyptian government took brave steps in saying the truth about the status of the current economic situation. Later, they started with lifting subsidies and improving infrastructure, measures that contributed to the economy’s recovery.
But I have some reservations. The investment atmosphere is not attractive for financiers. Moreover, repeated changes in the taxing system repels financial backers.
Additionally, the Egyptian state is investing on its own projects [via state-owned national projects], a measure which brings the public sector back to the scene. However, this has [previously] failed in Egypt, and in the Soviet Union.
I am very concerned over the amount of foreign debt, which almost equals the revenues, according to the statements issued by the Minister of Finance. This means we will not have enough money to invest in infrastructure.
Therefore, we need to investments of at least $100bn annually to create a million job opportunities, and to exit the current situation.
Finally, the general atmosphere is not encouraging for the private sector, which has been repeatedly accused of corruption.