Egypt faces its moment of economic truth.

AuthorAlbum, Andrew
PositionEconomic reform key to defeat of Islamic fundamentalism - Business & Finance

Since his predecessor, Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists in 1981, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has struggled with the threat posed by Islamic militancy. As Andrew Album writes, perhaps the solution to the problem is attainable by economic means.

In spite of what his critics say, Hosni Mubarak has achieved much during his 14 years as Egypt's president, having inherited a country in economic decline and facing isolation within the Arab world as a result of the 1979 peace deal with Israel. Today, Egypt is once more at the centre of the Arab community, having played a pivotal role in forming the coalition which defeated Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait, as well as being instrumental in the recent Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement. The billions of dollars in aid that have flowed as a result of Mubarak's astute diplomacy has also stabilised what was becoming a very precarious economic situation.

Many problems still remain, not least of which is the threat to the country's stability which is posed by Islamic fundamentalism. The Islamic challenge to Mubarak has manifested itself in two forms. The first is the small Gama'a al-Islamiya, whose terror activities have been splashed across newspaper front pages around the world. Less publicised, but perhaps far more dangerous, is the increasing influence on Egyptian society being wielded by the Ikhwan al-Muslimin, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mubarak has responded to the Gama'a by enlisting the Egyptian army to physically crush it. To a degree, this policy is succeeding, although it is no doubt fuelling substantial resentment against the Cairo administration, as well as providing a fertile breeding ground for new recruits.

The regime's response to the Muslim Brotherhood has been twofold. It has sought to clamp down on the movement's activities - over 60 of its leaders have been jailed this year - and Mubarak has restated that he sees no political role for the group. Secondly, the government has sought to don the cloak of Islam and surrender power to the official Islamic establishment. Traditionally liberal Egyptian society is in retreat.

Perhaps President Mubarak would be far more successful in containing Islamic militants if he were able to mobilise the support of his country's population, rather than just its army. As yet, he appears to feel that this is not possible, but many commentators believe that it would be, if his government focused on improving the economic wellbeing of its...

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