Bumpy transition to democracy for Egypt
Ryan Summerlin July 11, 2013
Last week’s ousting of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi caught many international observers by surprise. It shouldn’t have.
Cairo’s ongoing turmoil illustrates CNN’s Fareed Zakaria point that democracy is a time-consuming and lengthy process.
The current crisis was instigated by Morsi’s inability to address Egypt’s ongoing socio-economic issues. His administration failed to resolve the country’s disintegrating financial conditions. Morsi was unsuccessful in narrowing the nation’s political divide. He failed to manage the government bureaucracy. And finally, the nation’s Supreme National Constitutional Court further stymied his administration first by dissolving the elected Parliament and then nullifying Morsi’s decree reinstating it.
Millions took to Cairo’s streets during the first anniversary of Morsi’s election. They demanded his ouster. The military gave him 48 hours to meet their requests, and Morsi refused. He was removed several days later.
The military replaced him with an interim prime minister, Adly Mansour, Egypt’s chief justice on the Supreme Constitutional Court. Egypt is embroiled in a nation-wide debate about how to proceed next.
Egypt’s democratic transition will be expedited or prolonged, depending on several factors:
• A reconciliation of differences among the various political parties over the shape of Egypt’s political system.
• The military’s acceptance of civilian authority.
• The United States and European Union’s interference in Egypt’s political transition.
Several groups dominate Egypt’s political scene. The Muslim Brotherhood is the country’s largest organized party. It supports imposing a strict form of the Islamic law for Egypt’s political climate.
The nation’s other prime political parties are the National Salvation Front and Tamarod. The National Salvation Front is directed by Mohammed ElBaradei, former International Atomic Energy Agency director and a Nobel Prize winner. The party is comprised of various liberal and left wing groups. ElBaradei’s main political objective is returning Cairo’s political functions to the people from the military.
Tamarod is the newest political group. It is a grassroots organization. Tamarod supposedly collected more than 22 million signatures addressing the nation’s grievances. It was also responsible orchestrating the protests leading to Morsi’s ouster.
Egypt’s military has the most to lose from Egypt’s democratic transition. It is the country’s most powerful institution — and the largest armed force in the Middle East. Egypt’s military is heavily embedded throughout the country’s socio-economic-political sphere. Many officers are involved in various non-military activities, including different government contracts and business ventures linked to their positions. The military’s top priority is sustaining its status. They are willing to cooperate — or oust — anyone jeopardizing their clout.
The principal challenge for Egypt’s political players is reconciling their differences and respecting each other’s existence. The Muslim Brotherhood will need to moderate its political ideology. The military must cease its nationwide arrest of Brotherhood members. Both will need to work with the National Salvation Front and the Tamarod movement, especially if it becomes a cohesive, organized political party.
The Tamarod may emerge as Egypt’s prime political force, providing the aforementioned occurs. The primary long-term test for Egypt’s democracy will be for the military to accept civilian authority. This will prove an especially daunting task when government decisions are made degrading the military’s financial links to the benefit of the country’s economy. The scenario will probably unfold once an agreed-upon civilian government is established. That will be the long-term test for Egypt’s democracy.
The United States and European Union are the two outside players that could adversely or favorably influence Egypt’s political climate.
Both will need to avoid meddling in Cairo’s domestic affairs. The best approach for both is to set an example for how democracies should or shouldn’t operate. At most, they should employ public diplomacy to influence the situation.
Any kind of intervention beyond those measures may unintentionally reverse key progress in Egypt’s political environment.
The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen called the situation “Egypt’s failed democratic experiment.” His argument has yet to be proven right or wrong and will probably be confirmed incorrect over time.
Egyptians haven’t had any kind of political freedom in more than 20 years. It will take time for Egypt to develop a democracy conducive to its culture, needs and desires.
Last week’s events may not be uncommon for awhile, as the various parties work to resolve their differences.
Democracy is a form of “organized chaos,” Egypt’s democratic transition will mirror the axiom.
A high probability exists that an Egyptian democracy will permeate with various Islamic features; entail free, fair and periodic elections; and resemble the United States’ or Great Britain’s political systems.
Egypt’s democratic transition will be bloody at times, but younger Egyptians will benefit from the current generation’s struggles, hardships and efforts. It may even serve as a precedent for how other Arab Spring countries transition to democracy.
Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to email@example.com.