If and when the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the ruling Military Council in Egypt
reach a power-sharing agreement, the situation will continue to unravel and be
punctuated by chaos and accompanied by violence.
A testimony to this
chaos is the recent crisis over the democracy-promoting US NGOs working in
Egypt. In a classic case of diversionary policies, the military-led government
attempted to divert the attention of the public away from the worsening economic
and security conditions by going after NGOs that receive unregistered foreign
To set the path for future democratic stability in Egypt, a
resumption of the country’s leadership role in the Arab world and carefully
considered regional responsibilities, any new Egyptian government needs to
follow a number of steps: First, the electorally-triumphant Islamic parties
should not be tempted to exercise hegemony, but should rather push for pluralism
ensuring that any government is representative, in word and deed, of Egypt’s
wide political spectrum.
Demonstrating prudence, the MB has decided to
distance itself from a coalition with the ultra-conservative Salafi party and
has instead sought out an agreement with the liberal parties. But there is a
growing concern among Egypt’s democrats that the MB will use their sugar-coated
coalition with the liberals to hide their real intentions: to gradually
“Islamize” the country’s institutions and society instead of working on the
desperately- needed socioeconomic reforms.
The policies that the new
government will pursue and to what extent it will embrace pluralism will signal
not only to the Egyptian people how it is responding to their needs, but will
also send a clear message to the Arab world as to where Egypt is actually
heading. The Arab youth do not want their or any other Arab government to be
fashioned after the Iranian regime and will rise again if they feel
Second, the new government should embark on extensive
sustainable development projects to revive the economy. To some, the economic
gloom might seem to be lifting in Egypt, but they must remember that this
“brighter” prospect is mainly due to the $3.2b. loan the government expects to
sign shortly with the International Monetary Fund in the hopes that this will
clear the way for other foreign aid. However, foreign aid can only solve
immediate and not long-term economic problems and no foreign-aiddependent
country is likely to become prosperous.
Egypt’s current dismal economic
reality can only be solved through sustainable development strategies, which
depend on decentralized decision-making on the economic projects and the
transfer of managerial authority, skills and capacities to sub-national levels,
all of which are key to advancing democracy and development from the bottom
Decided on by the local communities, and funded by micro-finance
loans, these development projects will help alleviate the country’s endemic
poverty, create jobs and empower the masses, particularly women.
parties can be a natural ally to this form of economic development, not only
because the majority of their activities have historically been providing social
services at the grassroots level, but also because this model identifies with
the Islamic concepts of Shura (consultation) and Ijma
Instead of responding to a recent call from the
prominent Salafi preacher Mohamed Hassan for citizens to raise money to do away
with US aid, wealthy Egyptians should donate toward this type of
Knowing the experience of Bangladesh and Morocco, the
wealthy donations will get a significant return and help advance the country’s
economic and democratic prospects.
THIRD, THE new government (that would
have a significant MB component) should maintain the peace with Israel as a
pillar of Egypt’s national security. In a panel discussion I participated in on
al-Hurra channel last month which included the chairman of the MB Freedom and
Justice Party (FJP), Dr. Mohamed Morsy, it was stated by Dr. Morsy that the FJP
would honor the peace but is not really interested in talking with the Israelis.
Also, in the midst of the American NGO crisis in Egypt, the FJP countered the US
threat to cut aid to the country by threatening to review the peace treaty with
These are worrying signs as they ignore the major outcry of the
Egyptian and other Arab revolutionaries who were spurred by domestic failures
and deprivations and not by hatred and disdain toward Israel. The
revolutionaries did not burn Israeli flags and call for “death to Israel” but
instead demanded freedom, opportunity and dignity. The MB seems to treat the
peaceful relations with Israel as if they are doing Israel a favor, when in fact
the peace is in Egypt’s own national interest.
The preservation of the
peace will prevent another deliberate or accidental armed confrontation, which
would heavily tax the Egyptian economy. Egypt would have to allocate tens of
billions of dollars toward a war with Israel, which it does not have, while
losing US financial assistance without any prospect of challenging Israel
militarily. And to what end? Israel is an unmitigated reality and the Egyptian
people can benefit greatly from normal relations from a technologically and
economically advanced neighboring country.
Finally, any new government
should aggressively pursue a restoration of Egypt’s regional role. Though poor
in resources, Egypt has always been the epicenter of the Arab world, and the
model that emerges in Egypt will certainly have an impact on the entire Middle
East. But for the Egyptians to set an example for the rest of the Arab world,
they will have to take the lead in the Arab Spring revolutions.
unfortunately, the military-led government has chosen to remain an observer in
Libya, Syria, and Yemen. It has even allowed Iranian ships to cross the Suez
Canal en route to Syria carrying arms to the Assad regime to suppress and kill
his people who, like their Egyptian counterparts, simply seek to be free. For
political, security and geo-strategic reasons, the new government in Egypt
cannot afford to lose Egypt’s traditional leadership role in the Arab world by
allowing a small Arab country like Qatar to take the lead or permitting Iran to
rise to the position, a country that is laying in wait to usurp the political
and regional agenda.
Neither the Egyptian people nor the international
community should expect a velvet transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Egypt can rise to the historic occasion but it must now choose
wisely.The writer is a professor of International Relations and Middle
Eastern Studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University and is
also a Senior Fellow and the Middle East Project Director at the World Policy