A Plan to Aid Egypt's Conversion to Democracy

Friday, 11 Feb 2011 09:23 AM

By Tawfik Hamid

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The revolution in Egypt faces two paths. The values of liberty and freedom may prevail. But, without help, Islamic radicals may hijack the revolution and create a theocratic state.

The future of the country and the Middle East largely depend on which of these case scenarios will succeed.

It is important to mention that unlike the Iranian revolution, this revolution is not religious in its roots. However, the more the delay in ending the power of Mubarak, the more likely the country will collapse economically which can allow Islamists to direct the revolution to serve their Islamic agenda.

On the positive side, Islamists have suffered several blows in this revolution:
  • There has been unprecedented unity between Muslims and Christians. Both Friday Muslim and Sunday Christian prayers were held in the Tahrir Square with support and blessings from the protestors.
  • Clear rejection to giving the revolution any religious title. In fact, many protestors prevented the members of the Muslim Brotherhood from using the flag of their organization.
  • The founders of the revolution have been inspired by the values of freedom. The very same people who started the revolution are unlikely to accept an Islamic agenda that will inevitably suppress their freedoms.
  • The refusal of the Muslim Brotherhood initially to share in the demonstrations will make them lose some of their already declining credibility.
But all is not rosy for the revolution.

The expected economic crisis that is likely to happen in the country as a result of a sudden collapse of the tourism industry could spell doom for the country, and the contradictory statements of some U.S. officials regarding the the U.S.' position could be problematic.

Frank Wisner, a U.S. envoy to Egypt, suggest that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should remain in office.  But the Obama administration was clearly  for a power transition in the country.

This ambiguity has been used by Al-Jazeera to convince many Egyptians that the U.S. is supportive of Mubarak against them.

The delay of the Egyptian military in taking a clear stand with the people against Mubarak will make them perceived by many as traitors who supported one person against the will of a whole nation. This delay of the military in taking a clear side against Mubarak has put the country into a state of chaos and economic crisis that can only work for the benefit of Islamists and can make many Egyptians unwilling to cooperate with the military in the future.

A sudden termination of the emergency law in Egypt as the U.S. demanded from the Mubarak regime may allow many jihadists to use the chaos to conduct acts of terror that can further aggravate the already existent economic crisis and increase radicalism.

So, what is needed right away?
  • Economic support to prevent an economic crisis.
  • Support for the efforts of the Egyptians to get Mubarak’s family and — if possible — money back to the country if the allegations are true that they stole $40-$70 billion from public money.
  • Clarification of the U.S. position for freedom of the Egyptian people. Currently, the U.S. can choose either to loose Mubarak and the Egyptian people or loose the former and win the hearts of the Egyptians (and many in the Muslim world as well). An unambiguous U.S. position in this critical time is vital.
  • Intervention of the Egyptian military to remove Mubarak.
  • Modification (not suspension) of the emergency law to avoid using it against innocents or against political opponents of Mubarak and limiting its use against terrorists.
  • Well-organized media campaigns to discuss how the Muslims and Christians united during the protests, how the Muslim Brotherhood initially refused to share in the demonstrations.

Failure to immediately give attention to the factors that can drag the country toward more Islamism can jeopardize all future relations between U.S. and Egypt.

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