OPINION

Great challenges, great opportunities

The world-changing events in the Arab world coincide with Greece?s need to chart a new course. At the same time, the European Union is looking for its way forward — a way which, to our good fortune, seems to be leading toward stronger ties between member states and not dismemberment. In Egypt, the popular uprising will affect the whole region, with immediate and long-term consequences for Greece, whether it leads to democracy and development or instability and violence. Such hours are unpredictable and dangerous, but they are also rich with potential. Developments inside Greece depend, to the greatest extent, on our own decisions and actions. What will determine events in the broader region, however, is in the hands of others. We will need hard work on our part and a lot of good luck to gain from the situation.

How can Egypt affect us? In the best-case scenario, if a democratic regime is established (allowing all citizens to take part in political developments while guaranteeing their security and food supplies), Egypt will enter a period of dynamic growth. This will create needs in the sectors of education, commerce, construction, tourism and energy. Such a country would be a magnet — attracting not only tourists with its ancient riches but also immigrants who would be useful in every sphere. With the Greeks? long history in Egypt, the blooming of the Egyptian economy would be a wonderful opportunity to renew the strong ties between the two peoples. Greek professors, engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs would be able to help Egypt develop and gain from this. At the same time, the country?s economic development would allow more Egyptians to study abroad and to travel. Greece could benefit from this as well.

If Egypt were to sink into instability and violence, instead of attracting foreigners it would force its own children to leave. Protracted political insecurity would lead to social collapse and mass emigration. Greece is already looking at how it could cope with such an influx, especially on the islands of Crete and Rhodes, which are the closest to Egypt. A power vacuum in Egypt would encourage terrorist groups, which would operate both within the borders and abroad. In this case, however cynical this may sound, Greece could benefit as an alternative destination for tourists afraid to visit Egypt and other Arab states in the region.

The Israeli-Arab conflict, also, will play a significant role in our future. Whether Egypt moves toward democracy or enters a new chapter of autocracy (secular or religious), it is most likely to harden its position with regard to Israel. It might even scrap the peace treaty of 1979. With Turkey having adopted a leading role in the Arab-Muslim world, Greece would find itself a central player in the Israel-Cyprus-Europe axis. This would provide unprecedented opportunities for growth but would also demand very fine diplomacy, with regard to relations with the Arab world and the Palestinian issue.

Whichever scenario comes into effect, Greece will face great challenges and great opportunities. But what kept Greece from exploiting its ties with Egypt over so many years? On the one hand, we had a state that was lacking in credibility and too lazy to create the necessary climate for such development; on the other, growth in Greece (both real and a ?bubble?) kept citizens from seeking their fortune abroad. Today we realize that our country has to reorganize itself on a new foundation that will encourage businesses and citizens to take the initiative; citizens must be open to opportunities both within Greece and abroad, through increased contacts with the rest of the world.

The world is changing, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to decide whether the changes will offer us new opportunities for development — whether we will open up new roads in once-familiar territory — or whether we will remain trapped in our introspective aggression.