It has already been spelt out in the previous section of the article the heavy sacrifice Egypt experienced under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasir to ensure its political independence through rebuffing western domination. The current section would highlight the country’s endeavors and the outcome registered towards becoming self-supporting in the agricultural and industrial sectors in the face of the trying moments of hostility.
Egypt prior to the 1952 Revolution
Before the onset of the 1952 Revolution that brought about fundamental changes in land management, Egypt was under feudal economic system in which feudal oligarchs owned extensive land, while the masses of peasants led a life of destitutions without any access to land. For instance, the monarch and some 2, 000 feudal lords used to own about 80% of the country’s agricultural land. The remaining 20% was under the ownership of about 2 million middle class farmers.
The Egyptian economy was mainly based on cotton export that benefited only the few land owners and foreign importers, leaving the vast majority of the country’s population to lead a life of destitution. The few factories and business establishments in the urban centers were equally under the domination of foreign companies and insurance institutions, especially that of Britain and France, thus serving the interest of these quarters. Explaining the then prevailing state of affairs, the Egyptian intellectual, Dr. Abdel-Jelil Al-Umeri, said: “Egypt’s economy could be likened to a cow that feeds on a single piece of grass but in reality provides milk to an alien country.” Hence, the 1952 popular uprising was a natural response to an unjust and glaring socio-economic crisis on the part of the Egyptian people.
Egypt after the 1952 Revolution
As already indicated, by the time the government headed by Gamal Abdel Nasir assumed office, Egypt was an extremely backward nation as regards agriculture and industry. In line with its commitment to rehabilitate the socio-economic crisis and develop the national economy, the new government pursued a policy of enhancing the role of the state in the economy and ensuring equitable allocation of resources. It maintained strong conviction that Egypt could be transformed into a strong and prosperous nation taking into account its rich natural resources and strategic location. Accordingly, the government formulated the following policy guidelines:
1. Entrusting the government with the responsibility of planning and coordinating national development programs
2. Ensuring equitable allocation of national resources so as to guarantee economic and social justice
3. creating conducive ground to reactivate the agriculture sector through introducing new mechanism of land ownership and use
4. Putting in place the necessary framework that makes the private sector serve public interest in conformity with the national plan
5. Ensuring independent national decision free from external pressure; and giving national interest priority in political and economic relations with foreign parties
6. Combating corruption in private and government agencies
The Gamal government gave priority to the agricultural sector in its economic plans. In line with this policy, it first and major step dealt with land reform which legally defined the size of land plot a national is entitled to own. Thus, about 300,000 hectares of land that was previously owned by feudal oligarchs was distributed to landless peasants. In due course, the government began implementing agricultural programs through organizing cooperatives in the rural areas. It also played a vital role in boosting agricultural production through extending interest-free loan to farmers along with machineries, select seeds, fertilizers and the like. More than 325,000 landless families got access to land ownership as a result of the government’s move. The leadership embarked on expanding agricultural cultivation through putting in place large-scale infrastructure so as to make optimum use of the Nile River waters.
The construction of the strategic Aswan Dam was, therefore, one of the major achievements of the Gamal government. According to the 2000 UN report, this project was one of the major development projects of the 20th century. The construction of the dam raised agricultural cultivation in Egypt to over 800,000 hectares. It is worth noting that cotton production in the country reached about 11 million quintals in 1969, which is believed to be the highest production in Egyptian history. In other respects too, the country managed to meet 85% of domestic needs as regards agricultural harvest, apart from that of wheat. The then existing large-scale rice plantation is also another spectacular phenomena. The construction of the Aswan Dam also played a decisive role in ensuring the provision of potable water and electricity supply to all villages across Egypt.
Still in other domains, the Egyptian agricultural revolution was equally a driving force in significantly reducing unemployment and upgrading the economic wellbeing of the farming community. Besides, visible improvement was registered in expanding education, health and other social services in all the rural areas.
Parallel with the agricultural revolution, the industrial sector too witnessed similar transformation. The establishment of textile and foodstuff factories, as well as fertilizer processing plants provided added impetus to the development of the agriculture sector. Likewise, the steel and railroad implements manufacturing plants came to being. Egypt was subsequently in a position to set up factories that produce heavy and light armaments, as well as various military hardware, in addition to aircraft servicing company. In brief, about 1,200 small and large-scale industrial plants flourished in Egypt in the days of the Gamal Abdel Nasir leadership.
Furthermore, the nationalization of the Suez Canal, which was under British and French control and thus serving to bolster up the income of foreign quarters, played paramount role in boosting Egypt’s Gross National Product. The nationalization of the Suez Canal by the Gamal government deeply shocked both Britain and France. Frustrated by such developments, the two countries together with Israel launched tripartite aggression against Egypt. However, the invasion was dealt a decisive blow by the steadfast resistance on the part of the people and government of Egypt. Egypt ultimately ensured sovereignty over the Suez Canal.
Records also indicate that Egypt scored visible economic growth in the years 1957-1967. According to global financial institutions and Washington sources, the Egyptian economy then registered 7% annual growth which was unparallel in comparison with other countries of that period, apart from that of Japan, West Germany and some socialist states. For instance, the Egyptian economic growth then surpassed the economy of industrialized Italy by 4.5%, according to records.
Although Israel inflicted heavy damage to Egypt during the so-called “6-day War” in 1967, the Egyptian economy that had already a strong foundation managed to cope with the losses. In fact, the country’s economy not only retained the pre-war economic growth but also succeed in registering 8% growth during the 1960-1970 period.
The next article would try to figure out whey then the setback that the formerly promising Egyptian economy had encountered as of late.