My grief over the situation our countries have reached deepened while I was attending the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa that is held every two years and that took place at the Dead Sea in Jordan this year. When I entered the conference hall that carries the name of late King Hussein, I remembered when this same conference was hosted by Egypt in Sharm al-Sheikh in 2008. All participants found it a really impressive conference. Back then, Egypt succeeded in convincing the World Economic Forum that the conference is alternately held at both Sharm al-Sheikh and the Dead Sea. Of course, this hasn't happened ever since, and I do not think it will happen soon. Back then, I felt that the first thing I must do is send a letter to engineer Rashid Mohamed Rashid, not to send it as his friend, but as an Egyptian thanking him for all the efforts he made for Egypt. Rashid is the man behind this accomplishment of hosting the conference in Sharm al-Sheikh.
Back to the recent conference held in Jordan. Throughout the entire conference, everyone I met who realized I was from Egypt voiced his sadness over the country's current situation. They spoke with a pitiful tone, and they all said “Egypt does not deserve what it is going through.” I felt I was from a country confronting a catastrophe. A deep sense of bitterness reigned over me.
Comparison between hopes and reality
This year, the conference’s title was “Improving Growth and Continuity Reasons.” What is meant here is the ability to maintain the continuity of growth. Providing job opportunities for youths was the most discussed topic at the conference. I realized that as I was listening to the ongoing debates, I was unconsciously remembering Egypt. I continued to feel bitter as I compared what we are going through with what is happening in the world, and as I compared the rhetoric I heard with the rhetoric that has prevailed in our country, thanks to our new rulers. At the conference, they adopted a realistic rhetoric whose bases are scientific whilst Egypt’s leaders adopt my “grandmother’s” rhetoric in which statements like “God's bounties are many” and “if we strike the ground with our hands, we will find the entire world’s bounties” are used. Our leaders speak as such whilst the economy is collapsing. They are living an illusion and drowning us with them. Such statements which are drowned in illusion, deceit and denial were echoed by an Egyptian minister who spoke of Egypt’s economy as if he was speaking of Japan’s economy! He boded that there will be cheerful news within the upcoming weeks and commended the great efforts carried out by the current government to reform what the former regime corrupted. You can easily tell that those who were listening to him were either in a state of disbelief or carelessness. I do not think that the minister was aware that most of the attendees actually know the truth of Egypt’s current economic situation through the available information in international organizations.
Speaking of facts, we met with Mr. Masood Ahmed, the International Monetary Fund Middle East and Central Asia Department’s director. Whilst talking about the stance of the Egyptian loan from the IMF, he tried to present accurate details in a very diplomatic and polite manner that harmonizes with his personality as it appeared to be. Mr. Masood said what implies that agreements reached with previous Egyptian governments were not implemented and that the situation now is that the current Egyptian government has once again begun preparing an economic reform project. He added that the Egyptian government said it has new visions in its project and that it will submit the latter to the IMF to study it and evaluate it in order to carry out negotiations on the loan from there. What I understood is that the issue regarding the loan is still at square one. Therefore, the most important economic “achievement” of the Brotherhood’s governance is still in phase one.
On the level of Egypt’s representation at the conference this year, it seemed that there was a clear decline of this representation on the official level. The Egyptian presence surprised many attendees and made them wonder “is this the Egypt that we know?” When speaking about Egypt, speakers all stated that it was a model of a country going through a crisis. Although, their reactions on the size of this crisis and the possibility of overcoming it varied, everyone except Egyptian officials agreed that it was a difficult crisis.
What really caught attention regarding Egypt’s participation at the conference was the participation of Mr. Imad Abdel Ghafour, the famous Salafi leader and the president’s aide. The man made sure he was present throughout the entire conference. The problem is that he thought that just being there and wandering in the conference’s hallways while drawing a smile that appears tolerant was enough to get the job done. But this is not enough. Not until you judge that the man has good intentions. This does not represent a country or a policy. His participation in one of the sessions on Islamic cabinets was one of the most controversial participations. When he began to speak about the situation in Egypt, I remembered those who bet that a disagreement between the Brotherhood and the Salafis is the way out of the current crisis. When I heard him say “is there really a difference?” my answer was clear. There is no difference there.
When Mr. Abdel Ghafour entered the hall, Mr. Ammar al-Hakim, the prominent Iraqi Shiite scholar and politician, was there. Mr. Abdel Ghafour made sure he does not shake hands with Hakim. Everyone noticed to the extent that one of the attendees commented saying Abdel Ghafour has to improve relations with other Muslim sects before addressing relations with Christians.
Abdel Ghafour also completely underestimated the issue of Copts in Egypt and dropped a bomb when he said: “We are working to normalize relations between Muslims and Copts in Egypt.” While I was walking out of the hall, I heard one participant telling another: “Did you hear him when he said that those who benefited from tourism before were 300 people? Doesn’t he know that tourism is an industry in which at least one million people benefit? How does he show up [to the session] without possessing facts and numbers?” The other participant responded: “It is simple. Did you hear him as he spoke of naturalizing relations with the Copts?”
As for the Egyptian presence on the level of liberals and intellectuals... now that’s another topic!
Abdel Latif al-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of "Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak," a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy