Monday, July 20, 2009

On Effectiveness and Efficiency

A frequent question they ask at business schools is about the difference between "effectiveness" and "efficiency." The model answer is "effectiveness is doing the right things, and efficiency is doing things right." In other words, effectiveness is about taking the right decision, while efficiency is about implementing that decision, competently and precisely.

In terms of human resources, Egypt's population of eighty million is a real treasure, if only their time, effort and dedication are channeled into productive outlets. Egyptian society, nevertheless, often fails the test of effectiveness. Two examples in this context are noteworthy.

The zeal and energy with which Egyptians support their national football team are astonishing. During the three-week African Cup of Nations hosted by Egypt in 2006, Egyptians were united on one goal: winning the trophy. Their overwhelming support certainly contributed to the success of the Egyptian team. The same spirit infused 2008 when our team won the African Cup for the sixth time in Ghana, and also very recently with the dramatic defeat of the Italian team, the world champion, in the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.

These intense emotions are, however, hardly felt in other vital fields, which makes one wonder: is there no national dream in Egypt other than winning a football cup? As a Third World country, Egypt faces a myriad of economic and social problems, the least important of which is more crucial to the wellbeing of people than the performance of the football team. If the time and effort dedicated to supporting the football team was used to eradicate poverty, develop slum areas, or increase production, we would have had a very different Egypt.

This lack of effectiveness was also witnessed when an Egyptian woman, Marwa El-Sherbini, was stabbed to death earlier this month at a courtroom in Dresden, Germany, at the hands of a xenophobic German. For this incident to cause widespread shock and outrage in Egypt is normal. But the kind of reactions that followed the tragedy revealed other important aspects.

In response to Al-Sherbini's murder, a great deal of time and effort were exerted in both online and offline campaigns exhibiting irrationality, over-emotionality, and the absence of a sense of direction. Among others, these campaigns asked the German government to submit a formal apology to its Egyptian counterpart, set up legal committees to defend the rights of the victim's family, and called for boycotting German goods.

To start with, the crime was perpetuated by an individual, not representing the German state or people in any direct way. These campaigns' references to "German racism" are tantamount to calling any Muslim "a terrorist" just because a group of Muslims hijacked a plane, or demolished a building. It is the same kind of unjust generalizations to which Muslims have been subject since the events of September, 11th.

In addition, casting doubt on the integrity and competence of Germany's judiciary overlooks the fact that Germany is a democratic country, with a fair and efficient legal system that treats all citizens and expatriates equally. Racism does exist in society, but state institutions are immune to their ramifications.

Ironically, the general public that has been so furious at Marwa's murder has never shown the same resolve against fundamental issues, such as Egypt's human rights record, the spread of corruption, or the rights of Egyptian communities abroad at large. Nor did it address the issue of racism inside Egypt, the signs of which are most evident towards dark-skinned African communities.

Obviously, the general public is not always capable of moving between multiple levels of analysis. And for an issue to attract its attention, it has to be sensationally dramatic. In this sense, elections are "too boring," economics is "extremely sophisticated," and politics is a "dirty game." The encroachment upon the rights of all Egyptians in these domains is pardoned, but the rights of Marwa El-Shirbiny, "the martyr of the veil" will "never be sacrificed."

Said differently, the rights of all Egyptians are trampled upon in various ways by an authoritarian, corrupt regime, but nothing much is done to protect these fellow citizens, or preserve their rights. On the other hand, even though the German assailant was caught, and will soon be tried, the pro-Marwa El-Sherbini campaign still draws many followers and sympathizers, because the veil is "sacred," and Germans are "racist." The death of Marwa was a sad tragedy, but juxtaposing these two realities is sadder.

In Egypt, there is no scarcity of energy. There is a scarcity of how to use it.

Nael M. Shama

* This article was published in Daily News (Egypt) on July 16, 2009.

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