Egypt after Mubarak
|Monday, 14. February 2011 1 comment(s)||
Researcher - The European Union research programme
With Mubarak’s departure, Egypt took a leap into the unknown. His unseating, it is true, has opened the way to a more free and democratic future. However, the way there is strewn with considerable uncertainties and potential pitfalls. And while too much cynicism would be misplaced given the courage and resolve of Egypt’s youth, a good dose of realism as to the magnitude of future challenges is required. Moreover, European governments should take heed. While they had little role in an uprising that was entirely of Egypt’s making, they have a clear stake in ensuring that Egypt’s democratic aspirations won’t be dashed.
Just like in Tunisia, it was the military that gave the final nudge to Mubarak. But unlike in Tunisia, it is Egypt’s military that will oversee the transition to democracy. This does not bode well for the future of Egyptian democracy. Obama’s laudations about the “patriotic values” of Egypt’s military aside, the military represents much of what the protesters have rallied against. Military officers have been represented at all levels of the former regime. Military-owned companies and production facilities have played a key role in Egypt’s crooked economy. And retired officers have profited handily from a recent wave of privatizations. In the past, the military has also pledged to prevent the banned Muslim Brothers, Egypt’s largest opposition force, from ever attaining power. All of this makes the military an unlikely hand-maiden of Egypt’s democratic transition.
Egypt’s opposition, on the other hand, seems woefully unprepared for what lies ahead. Tainted by their relationship with the old regime, many of the current opposition parties maintain little public credibility. But with elections likely to take place in August, if not earlier, there is precious little time for new ones to emerge. A broad coalition led by a consensual figure such as Mohammed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour or Amr Moussa seems the best bet, but would remain factitious. A clarifying moment for the opposition is likely to be the rewriting of the current Constitution, as it will raise some deeply divisive issues, such as the role of the sharia. This will also represent a serious first test to Egypt’s Muslim Brothers and their ability to change. While fear-mongering about an Islamist take-over is misplaced, building a functioning party system will be a serious challenge.
Egypt’s economic future is also mired in uncertainty. Poverty, unemployment and rising food prices were amongst some of the issues that triggered the initial protests. Addressing these will be a tall challenge for any future government. Prior to the revolution, Egypt’s economy was brimming along, given years of record-high growth and large inflows of foreign investment. After three weeks of standstill, it now is in a deep crisis. Both tourists and foreign investors are unlikely to flood back to Egypt in the near future. Moreover, protesters demands for higher wages, food subsidies and a roll-back of privatization will put a damper on future growth prospects. This will further curtail the ability of the Egyptian state to create jobs and fight poverty. But without progress on these issues, public dissatisfaction and more instability are likely to be the outcome.
Finally, a continuation of Egypt’s “moderating” course in regional affairs for now seems assured, due to the military’s commitment to value Egypt’s past international agreements (i.e. the peace treaty with Israel). However, any new regional crisis, such as a new confrontation between Israel and Hamas, is certain to put this commitment to a real test and could have serious repercussions for Egypt’s transition process.
Egypt, in other words, is facing a rough ride ahead. And while there are reasons to be optimistic, it would be naïve to underestimate the challenges. Europe has a major stake in ensuring a positive outcome and so has all the reasons to offer a helping hand. It can do so by holding the Egyptian military to its promises, assisting in the development of a functioning party system, overseeing future elections and propping up Egypt’s economy. None of this will be easy or cheap. But as the situation in Lampedusa shows, there are few alternatives.
Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors