Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reconciliation crucial for future of Egypt

East Meredith, NY

July 14, 2013

Has the recent coup in Egypt served the cause of democracy? Time will tell.

In removing President Morsi from power, the military has swiftly responded to a second round of a popular uprising and to a rapidly worsening economy.  In one year, Morsi managed to accelerate the deterioration of an already dysfunctional socio- economic system: vanishing tourism, runaway inflation, high unemployment, domestic instability and sectarian tension.  The national treasury has been losing a billion dollars a month over the last two and a half years.

If Morsi were left to rule a full four-year term, he would have proven beyond doubt that the Muslim Brothers ‘s system of governance is a failing version of political Islam. This valuable message, the wisdom of separating state from religious institutions, would have been heard in all centers of power in the Arab world.

But it may be unrealistic to expect an economically overburdened and politically troubled nation to wait several years to replace a miserable regime through a new round of elections.

The Generals seem to be more eager than the demonstrators to dispose of Morsi and his party.

Morsi was swiftly deposed and arrested. Hundred of his associates and followers were put in jail.  Media outlets of the Brothers were closed. Dozens were killed and hundreds were injured during the first day of protest against the military takeover.  

The military must rethink its aggressive and oppressive strategy. Demonizing a misguided party is unfair and could ultimately lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy: the Brothers turning into an armed Jihadist militia.

The international community is concerned about the sudden turn of events in Cairo. In a NYT op-ed, Khaled Abou Al Fadl, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, accused the Egyptian army of installing a new dictatorship through a coup d’etat. Referring to Arab dictators, Al Fadl remarked that “They all pointed to their supporters in the streets as the source of their legitimacy and perpetuated autocratic rule in the name of the people’s will.”

The military establishment is rushing the transition and making inconsistent decisions: arresting the leaders of the Brothers and paradoxically inviting their party to participate in the transition cabinet.  Moreover, the military has co-opted the Salafi Noor Party, a Sharia  advocacy group, to insure Islamic presence in the post- Morsi government. The Noor Party leadership is keen on keeping the constitution grounded in strict Sunni Islam, regardless of the urgent need to modernize the state institutions.

The Constitutional Decree, issued on July 8 by the military-appointed Interim President, spells out major steps of a seven-month transition period. First, the constitution will be revised in a few weeks. The revised charter will be put to a referendum.  Parliamentary elections will follow.

The qualifications and the credibility of the drafters are not spelled out. The electoral laws have not been finalized. Zaid Al Ali, an international expert on constitution building, is very critical of the style of this transition.  He says Today, we have no idea how the laws will be drafted or if there will be any mechanism to ensure that it will not be stacked against particular political forces. That is the type of detail that would have been helpful to reassure opponents of the new transition process at this early stage.”

The Decree implies that in 2014 a new president will be elected, but the time for this election is not specified.

The army has been more careful in the selection of leaders for the transition. Commander in chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi has appointed Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as Interim President.  Mansour has chosen Hazem El-Beblawi, a liberal economist, to be the Interim Prime Minister. The Interim President has also assigned Mohamad Al Baradei, a Nobel Peace Laureate to be the Interim Vice President.

How independent from the military will the nearly formed cabinet be is crucial. What will it take for the Muslim Brothers to agree to join the transition? The military has to work much harder to entice the Brothers to join.

In rushing reform, overreacting to dissidence and covertly dominating decision making, the generals may be setting themselves up against strong opposition and unintentionally sowing the seeds of continued instability.

The Muslim Brothers remain popular within grassroots religious communities, particularly in the rural areas.  The religious institutions are also very powerful in this country. Egypt is among the most religious nations in the Arab world. And secular groups are not easily fooled by superficial political change.

Are The Muslim Brothers being driven by the military and the secular opposition to martyrdom? Religious parties often thrive through suffering. The Brothers know that they are not likely to return to power soon, but they may be tempted to start a civil war to survive. Tarek Massoud, an Egyptian  professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, is hopeful that the Brothers will remain committed to a non-violence strategy.

The way the military is treating opponents now does not fit with the spirit of a peaceful transition. No amount of foreign aid would sustain Egypt for long if the engines of the economy remain broken. Stability would activate tourism, an important source of income and an industry which needs a climate of national reconciliation.

The first gesture of problem solving would be the release of all political prisoners, most appropriate in this Holy Month of Ramadan.









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