Who should drive the Egyptian Economy: Bureaucrats or Entrepreneurs?

Being a successful physician or teacher does not normally qualify a person to run a hospital or a school efficiently! Single-handedly managing a hospital, or a school, in a remote area is a deceptive business proposition that differs completely from operating the same establishment amidst rival institutions. In fact, relying on one’s personal talent to earn a decent income is a business model that involves a completely different dynamism than running a commercial entity with a workforce of thousands and successfully sailing it through the market’s ups and downs.

“Why should my family pay a hefty portion of its profits in taxes to careless people who are reluctant to work?” a social media friend posted recently. He stated that he and his family work very hard to earn their money, which then goes in part to subsidize fuel and food items for people who refuse to exert equal efforts. This leads us to question if the large portion of Egypt’s population that is less fortunate is born into this condition – or if it is less fortunate because it is constituted of indifferent workers. The fact that young people account for two-thirds of our population prompts me to lean toward the latter option.

Egypt’s economic dilemma is not only about spending roughly half of our national budget on government employee salaries and subsidies; primarily, it is about the appointment of executives and ministers who spend their entire careers in secure bureaucratic positions, driving the Egyptian economy! The combination of never experiencing a business crisis, or even a market slowdown, and knowing nothing about innovation is a clear leadership deficiency. The steady government careers of Egyptian bureaucrats enable them to survive on limited incomes, barely managing their debts; however, they have no clue about engendering economic growth.

Reading in Egyptian newspapers that our Minister of Tourism often declines to meet with tourism stakeholders (hotel owners and travel agencies) prompted me to wonder why the management of an industry operated exclusively by the private sector is handed over to a person with such a bureaucratic mindset who directs the Ministry according to his personal whims. Tourism is a dynamic, progressive industry that, in my opinion, needs an open-minded minister, not a bureaucrat! The minister’s disinterest in listening to people who have been operating their businesses for decades further endorses my argument.

For all airline companies, the number of flying hours is the essential selection criterion when hiring senior pilots. Interviewing candidates about their flying knowledge is often of secondary importance to their proven flying experience. Any moderately well-read person can spend a few hours enhancing his knowledge on any given subject. Sadly, in Egypt we mostly hire executives with no real field experience who excel at sponging up knowledge and passing it on to their subordinates.

There is an ongoing debate in Egypt about who is better able to serve our nation: politicians, technocrats or businesspeople. In reality, the Egyptian state does not favor politicians who are eager to realize power; they are usually kept at a distance. The state used to appoint ministers, defined as technocrats, who in their ministerial capacities often exhibited a lack of stamina and managerial talent. As for businesspeople, the Egyptian media has labeled them as ‘rotten fruit’ whose only objective is to fulfill their personal interests and ambitions.

After discarding the above three categories, the state has recently settled for Egyptian bureaucrats – who have today become the most favored category for ministerial positions! Bureaucrats are by default well trained to obey their superiors blindly, but they are naturally lacking in ambition, have low motivation abilities and are never visited by creativity. If they had better skills in any of the above areas, they would have resigned from the government decades ago to explore their ideas. A bureaucratic position is not only a career; it is also a mindset.

The Egyptian economy’s current struggle is not about technicalities per se! What the Egyptian state is currently doing can be likened to designating the most crowded passenger car to pull the entire train – which could be driven better by the business-oriented catering staff, by expert train conductors, or even by passengers eager to reach their destinations on time.

The debate here is not about privileging one category over another. It is about appointing executives with genuine entrepreneurial skills to manage our railways efficiently. Ministers in office need to demonstrate their success clearly or, at the very least, adopt an open-minded attitude and a genuine willingness to listen to others.

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