Politics of business
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Fri Oct 20 22:10:59 MDT 2000
Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
19 - 25 October 2000
Issue No. 504
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
Politics of business
By Aziza Sami
Just what is the significance of so many businessmen standing in the
forthcoming parliamentary elections?
In answering this question, it is illuminating to take the individual
case of Rami Lakah, by now a household name thanks to the media. The
furore revolved around Lakah Group's notorious loan history, the danger
that it posed to creditor banks, and the group's subsequent ability to
negotiate with the government to reschedule repayments on loans
estimated at LE1.2 billion.
You would have thought Mr Lakah had his hands full already. But no, now
he is venturing into politics. Not that it seems a particularly
well-structured entry into public life. Rather, it
appears to be an extension of the high-level bartering and trade-off in
businessmen operating on a large scale now indulge.
Whose interests, exactly, are these business candidates seeking to
represent? What is their
take on basic questions related to the reform process and its
privatisation, on exports and on the impact of liberalisation on
economic and social
Several major businessmen are members of the ruling NDP, though it is
far from clear how that is likely to effect any lobbying for improved
production structures, more effective privatisation processes or a more
liberal market. Similarly, the positions likely to be adopted by those
who chose to run as independents remain far from clear.
More businessmen, then, may enter the next parliament. As yet, their
potential impact is unclear, beyond perhaps the one certainty -- that
they will be persistent in promoting their own, limited, partisan
It is doubtful that they will be able to fill the vacuum created by the
absence of any effective association bringing businesses together and
facilitating dialogue between industry representatives. That vacuum,
after all, is now being held to blame by many for the government's
prevarication over its partnership agreement with the EU, which was
five years in the negotiating.
Many now condemn what they characterise as a "top-down approach" during
negotiations. The government, they assert, did not have a complete grasp
of the concerns of individual industries, whose representatives were
only "informed", periodically, of the broad lines of negotiation. As a
consequence a major trading agreement has left local industries in a
state of disarray, while the government is in the embarrassing position
of having to delay any final signing of a text it has been negotiating
for years because first it must allay business's concerns.
Businessmen with vision and executive ability might look to the example
of one of the world's strongest business associations, the German
Federation of Industries, which represents the full range of industry
from small and medium enterprises to global players, and engages in
constant research and the provision of data to the government
on relevant issues , while being reticent on any direct involvement by
business in party politics.
And, if it is Egypt's industry representatives who in a developing
economy have been charged with over 70 per cent of investments, then
they should formulate their position on economic issues, and, beyond
partisan politics, see that this will feed into the decision making
Egyptian businessmen -- particularly the most prominent and the most
successful -- have tended to run their businesses as "one man shows"
making little, if any, recourse to modern management techniques and
displaying a long-standing allergy to the delegation of
responsibilities. That these overstretched individuals are seeking to
add to their burdens by making forays into politics despite, in several
cases, growing doubts over their competence to manage their original
businesses, does not promise much.
Involvement in a political process that does not uphold real democratic
interaction will at best serve only partisan business interests. So,
despite the possible election of such a large bloc of businessmen,
national industry still faces an urgent challenge to organise itself so
as to make its voice heard, and have a say in decision making. And this
can only be accomplished within the framework of strong associations.
Businessmen in parliament may realise their individual political
ambitions. Their involvement in politics, though, is unlikely to make
them better entrepreneurs.
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Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222
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