(February 9, 2011) Renowned Peruvian economist and international development scholar Hernando de Soto wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about how the lack of property rights in Egypt has led to widespread economic marginalization, fueling the current uprising.
The headline that appeared on Al Jazeera on Jan. 14, a week before Egyptians took to the streets, affirmed that “[t]he real terror eating away at the Arab world is socio-economic marginalization.”
The Egyptian government has long been concerned about the consequences of this marginalization. In 1997, with the financial support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government hired my organization, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy. It wanted to get the numbers on how many Egyptians were marginalized and how much of the economy operated “extralegally”—that is, without the protections of property rights or access to normal business tools, such as credit, that allow businesses to expand and prosper. The objective was to remove the legal impediments holding back people and their businesses.
After years of fieldwork and analysis—involving over 120 Egyptian and Peruvian technicians with the participation of 300 local leaders and interviews with thousands of ordinary people—we presented a 1,000-page report and a 20-point action plan to the 11-member economic cabinet in 2004. The report was championed by Minister of Finance Muhammad Medhat Hassanein, and the cabinet approved its policy recommendations.
Egypt’s major newspaper, Al Ahram, declared that the reforms “would open the doors of history for Egypt.” Then, as a result of a cabinet shakeup, Mr. Hassanein was ousted. Hidden forces of the status quo blocked crucial elements of the reforms.