Egypt – The Road Ahead

The people of Egypt have achieved the peaceful departure of a totalitarian, repressive government. It’s an astounding, rare achievement. What’s next? There are many questions.

Who will be in charge of the transition?
This is a huge question. It appears that the High Council of the Egyptian Military intends to carry out a smooth transition to democracy. However, will they attempt to manage it themselves (perhaps with token civilian representation), or will there be a genuine cooperative effort between all significant groups?

Addendum: Before the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation, the High Council announced: 1) Emergency law will end after the demonstrations are over, some legal issues are resolved, the constitution is amended, and a presidential election is held.  2) To shepherd the process toward a democratic society to which people aspire, and 3) To not detain the protesters.  They stressed the importance of returning to normal work.

What about the Moslem Brotherhood?
Are they poised to fill a power vacuum? On one television show, the currently illegal Brotherhood was characterized as an aging, conservative group with little appeal to the younger generation. Once it its prohibition is lifted, it would be wonderful if it could take its place as one of a number of political organizations with a right to participate in the political process.

What about the economy and infrastructure of Egypt?
These are long-term problems and there are no easy answers. The problems are endemic to the whole area and creative thinking is required to solve them. It will require exceptional leadership to maintain the confidence of the people while these problems are being solved over a period of many years.

What about the Egyptian Constitution?
The constitution is rooted in democratic parliamentary principles, but amendments over the past 30 years and earlier have eroded many of the features of the original constitution.  Significantly, the Supreme Court was replaced by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which ironically was set up to contravene the original protections of the constitution.  Also, the current constitution says, “the principle source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)”.

Of course, Emergency Law has been in effect almost continuously since 1967 and removes many of the protections of the constitution. Among its provisions, censorship is legal, public demonstrations are restricted, non-approved political organizations are prohibited, and indefinite imprisonment without a stated reason is allowed.

Unlike the US Constitution, the amendments take the form modifications to the original text, and so they cannot be simply repealed. A new constitution is needed, perhaps based on one of the earlier versions drafted in more enlightened times. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see whether the Sharia law provisions are retained.

When will elections take place?
I’ve heard that if the president steps down, an election is supposed to take place within two months. Also, a regular election was to be held in September 2011. One senior protest leader said it would not be practical to hold an election in less than a year. That seems like a very long time to me. The acceptability of a long delay would depend strongly on the confidence of the people in the process, which would have to be open and led by well accepted leaders.

What will happen to pro-Mubarak people?
They fall into several categories:
Pro-Mubarak people
Killers before the demonstration
Killers during the demonstration
Hosni Mubarak

Hopefully simple pro-Mubarak people will be made welcome into the new Egypt. This does not always happen, of course. Those who murdered civilians before the demonstrations may fall into a different category than those who killed the 300 in the early days in Tahrir Square. Perhaps there will be a “Truth and Reconciliation” process for some of those people and criminal proceedings for others.

Hosni Mubarak assets in Switzerland have been frozen.  It remains to be seen whether he will be tracked down and brought to justice.

What about US-Egyptian relations?
The good news is that US has a good relationship with the Egyptian military, based on the support we provide. How that carries forward into an elected government remains to be seen. Obama and our government, over the past 18 days, made a variety of statements, both supporting Mubarak and asking him to step down. Fortunately it does not appear that we made any major gaffes, and I believe we can look forward to a productive relationship.

What about other countries?
As we all know, several other countries seem on the verge of similar events. What made this revolution successful is that the military acted with restraint, and eventually sided with the people, and presumably convinced Mabarak to resign. There is no guarantee that the military in other countries would behave the same. Typically such demonstrations are suppressed by whatever means are judged necessary, deadly or not.

The future of Egypt will certainly be interesting to follow. I hope, and we all hope, that the process will be well-managed and that conflicting factions in other countries will learn from the process.

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