Egyptians Asked for Change … But Are They Ready for It?


Nothing expresses a desire for change more powerfully than a revolution. The word “revolution” itself has always been synonymous with fundamental shifts and processes of change. In politics, “revolution” refers to an upheaval in which the incumbent government or system is replaced, but it also has an equally important significance in sociology, where it refers to a radical and pervasive change in the structure of society. Even in some hard sciences like geology, the word is used to describe a profound change in conditions over a large part of the earth’s surface. From this perspective, the Egyptian revolution is often described as an expression of Egyptian’ aspiration for fundamental change. But are Egyptians still looking for the drastic change that they were willing to die for in Tahrir Square in January 2011? And more importantly, are they prepared for the seismic shift in Egypt’s political order that could possibly be brought about by the presidential election? 

The presidential election that is starting tomorrow may be considered as one of the crucial tests of the transition process. Egyptians have already categorized the candidates as being either pro-revolution or pro-Mubarak’s regime. In a time when “achieving the objectives of the revolution” has become an obligatory slogan for all candidates hoping to win significant popular support,  the distinction between the two camps seems to be the extent to which a given presidential contender is expected to cut ties with Egypt’s authoritarian past.

But what about Egyptians themselves? Are they really looking for and prepared to cope with the uncertainties of change and take advantage of the opportunities that it may bring? Less than a month ago, KPMG International and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) released the results of a new “Change Readiness Index”, which captures the capability of a country as a whole — including the government, private sector and civil society – to manage and respond effectively to change. To do so, the index compares individual countries based on their scores in economic, governance and social sub-indices. The first broad group assesses a country’s economic capabilities relating to economic policies. The second one evaluates the country’s governance capabilities based on institutional arrangements. The third group assesses the social dimension of change-readiness, based on indicators including literacy rates, social support networks and civil society.

Surprisingly, among 60 emerging and developing countries evaluated in the study (with number 1, Chile, rating the highest level of change-readiness), Egypt falls on the lower third of the scale, ranking  number 41 with an overall score of 0.38. This very low score is particularly striking in a country that successfully staged a revolution against a dictator and his 30-year-old regime. It is even more striking in comparison to Tunisia, which came in second place behind Chile with an overall score of 0.72.  

Among the three sub-indices, Egypt is doing worst in its governance capacity. This suggests that the country’s main challenge comes from the limited ability of governmental and regulatory institutions to manage change effectively. It also signals some problems in government risk management and in state-business relations, which determine the extent to which government action is coordinated with, and sensitive to private sector responses to shocks.

The relatively good news, however, is that Egypt’s best score comes in the social capability sub-group, which accounts for the societal and cultural determinants of capability to manage change. The evaluation in this group is based on a different set of indicators including entrepreneurship or the country’s adaptability and initiative-taking in the face of change, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), human capital and civil society.

Do these findings suggest that Egypt’s underlying capability to manage change is primarily dependent on the strength and development of the Egyptian society? The Egyptians’ choice of their first elected president may provide part of the answer to this difficult question. But one thing is certain: the top 10 performing countries in the Index have a much lower variation in scores across all the economic, governance and social sub-indices, suggesting that a strong and active civil society alone is not sufficient to guarantee that Egypt will be able to cope with the extraordinary political changes brought about by the revolution. 

Hoda Youssef is a postdoctoral research associate at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Sciences Po Paris school. Her research work focuses on monetary and fiscal policy, and on the political economy of the MENA region, with a focus on Egypt.

Photo Credit: AFP

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