Egypt’s new Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and his cabinet members were recently sworn in as the country writhes under political,
economic and security turmoil. Let me remind my readers that this is a replica of the scene on which Mr Mahlab’s predecessor Hazem al-Beblawi and his cabinet made their debut last year in the wake of the 30 June Revolution which overthrew the Islamist president Muhammad Mursi. Despite the absolute patriotism, good intentions and excellent qualifications of the previous cabinet members, they collectively lacked the political expertise and decisiveness to tackle crises. It came as no surprise that their departure generated a sense of relief among political and party circles and on the street.
Mahlab’s cabinet includes 20 ministers from his predecessor’s cabinet, and 11 new ones. This represents no major change, and confirms that the problem with the previous cabinet was not about dearth in experience or competence but about feeble laxity in decision making. This is exactly what Mr Mahlab should realise: the ‘orchestra’ did not change much; it simply got a new ‘conductor’ who should lead with the boldness, vitality, and precision that would impact the masses and achieve their aspirations.
I imagine the cabinet will adopt strategies that would, through serious arduous work, achieve tangible improvements in the lives of mainstream Egyptians. I also believe that we should stop pampering and spoiling Egyptians with too many glossy promises of fabulous living conditions to be achieved in record time. Quite the contrary, Egyptians must be candidly told of the dire reality of the problems which today pester their lives. They must realise that their serious and unfailing effort—for no short period of time—is needed before aspiring for better wages, bonuses or incentives. Mr Mahlab might take the initiative to head to the sites of worker strikes or demonstrations to reassure the labourers that he is aware of their plight. I hope that, if he takes this step, he would resolutely warn the labourers that strikes and production stoppages are no way to attain their objectives.
It is now time to end the pampering and spoiling of those who strike and halt work in factories, hospitals or other State apparatuses; notably, these strikes do not take place in private sector institutions. Work groups or crisis management teams should be formed so they can swiftly step in to operate the production units paralysed by strikes, until the strikes end and the workers go back to their posts. This is especially urgent in case of the doctors’ strikes and partial or total closure of hospitals. It is now also time to regulate the right to strike so as to prevent its irresponsible exploitation. Strikes must be carried out under the umbrella of syndicates and labour unions in order for them to rationalise the demands of the strikers and negotiate with the authorities. Time periods must be set for strikes; an employer may not pay wages if the strike extends beyond the pre-set period. In this case the syndicate or labour union that called for the strike and its extension should pay, not the employer.
I say this because the scene we are currently witnessing and that greets Mr Mahlab’s cabinet is absurd to the fullest and by no means befits a nation that has almost been brought to its knees under the burden of anarchy and economic duress. Egyptians must be told the truth. They must be warned against the futility of taking matters lightly or placing the responsibility of getting out of this abyss solely on the shoulders of the government. This is urgently needed in order for Mr Mahlab to focus on tackling the issues of security, investment and education, major issues without which no stability can be attained.
If a return to sanity is required under normal conditions, how much more then as Egypt charges forth with its Roadmap to a democratic future. We are on the threshold of presidential elections, which warrants the full concern of Egyptians. Even more importantly and seriously are the parliamentary elections that should follow and which are fraught with hazards and must be managed wisely and expertly in order for the country to reach safe political and legislative shores.
Let everyone realise that Mr Mahlab does not come holding a magic wand. He cannot do miracles such as in children’s literature or fictional tales. The only wand he has in hand works through candour, courage, resolve and rigour; a wand of firmness, force and timeliness, reward and reprimand. This is what we need. Enough spoiling, indulgence, and tardiness.
9 March 2014
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