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Egypt and the Ten Challenges
By: Dr. Mohsen Saleh:
In geo-strategic calculations, the change in Egypt has quite significant implications. This importance is not only because it is steeped in history and its people are noble, but also because Egypt has five advantages which are hardly present in any other country in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
- First, Egypt is the center of the Arab world and the link between its Asian and African wings.
- Second, it is the center of the Muslim world linking its Asian and African wings as well. Further, it enjoys moral importance being home to al-Azhar University and a beacon for knowledge and scholars.
- Third, it has a key role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus, the success of any plan for real confrontation with Israel or for liberation is unlikely without Egypt.
- Fourth, it enjoys a vital position in Africa and is eligible to play a leading role in this continent.
- Fifth, Egypt has a strategic asset represented in the Suez Canal, one of the most important corridors for international trade in the world.
Therefore, the change in Egypt is quite important and it has crucial implications and repercussions on the domestic, regional and international levels. Thus, if it regains its position and achieves the objectives of its revolution, it might be able to impose new equations in the region. However, Egypt, which has a rich history, potentials and human resources, is also burdened with a legacy of authoritarianism, corruption, abuse of wealth and decline of its regional and international position. Hence, the change and revolution in Egypt is facing a wide range of challenges, the most notable of which can be summarized in the following ten points:
The first challenge is to determine the identity of the state, its affiliation and authority. This is a major concern for the Egyptians where the debate concerning the civil state, Islamic authority, secular regime besides Islamic and Arab affiliation all fall within this context. The referendum on the constitutional amendments reflected the course which the Egyptians have chosen to settle these issues through democratic means. The people will choose its council of representatives which will in turn choose the body that will draft the constitution that will be later approved throughreferendum.
However, it was strange to see parties calling for democracy and speaking on behalf of the masses supported by prominent intellectuals and media persons trying to neglect popular will. They wanted to trespass the democratic game when they realized that they are a minority and cannot achieve their agenda except by neglecting the opinion of the majority.
The Egyptians are Arabs known for their tolerance and moderation and 94% of the population are Muslims. It is the right of the sweeping majority to be proud of its Arab and Islamic heritage without oppressing any side. Yet, it is not accepted for minorities with communist, socialist, liberal or secular backgrounds to contest the Egyptian people once it has chosen its ruling authority. This becomes further critical within the context of a regime which acknowledges multi-party system and peaceful rotation of power. It is the right of any Egyptian to live in a political environment which is compatible with his religious, cultural and social identity so he would not be in conflict with himself and his vision. Ultimately, this state of compatibility is important for any process of innovation and building of civilization.
Those who call for expanding Islamic authority should realize the responsibility to accommodate all differences and to present Islam in its moderate, tolerant image. They should also focus on the points of agreement rather than occupying people with differences and divisions or religious edicts which are inclined towards extremism which is far from The Holy Qur'an or Sunnah. They have also to open up to contemporary jurisprudence which tackles the complexities of the current situation on the local, regional and international levels.
The second challenge lies in identifying priorities. The Egyptian uprising has faced dozens of important issues and demands. The former regime left a huge legacy of corruption besides political, social, economic and security problems. Additionally, there are priorities related to the political regime and its constitutional authority, security stability, strengthening national unity, economic development, optimal utilization of wealth, facing corruption, resolving grievances, trial of the former regime figures and restoring Egypt’s role on the Arab, Islamic, African and international levels…
As there are a number of major issues which demand patience and sacrifice such as economic advancement. The Egyptian citizen has the right to feel the difference from the very beginning and to sense the seriousness of the leadership. On the other hand, the new leadership which has been chosen by the people has the right to take its chance without being exhausted or overburdened. It remains important to avoid dragging the state into external conflicts and challenges which it is not ready to face yet.
The identification of priorities is a process which national forces must agree on. Thus, when the people settle their options regarding their representatives, the forces which comprise the minority must respect popular will without impeding its choices.
The third challenge to the change in Egypt is national unity which is a crucial factor for the advancement of the country. The most important feature of this unity is maintaining Islamic-Christian national cohesion to face sectarian strife and to prevent the depletion of people’s energy in internal conflicts. These consequences spoil any advancement projects and open the door for external interventions and fragmentation attempts.
The Egyptians do not need any lessons in national unity as they have presented throughout 1400 years wonderful model for Islamic-Christian relations. Problems appeared only recently in light of corrupt regimes and in an atmosphere of Western colonial attempts to sow sedition.
The fourth challenge is the optimal use of wealth. Most of Egypt’s wealth has been wasted by corrupt transactions, the most notable of which was the gas deal with Israel.
On another hand, Egypt is rich with agricultural, oil and water resources, public sector institutions and land property owned by the state all of which were exploited by the policies of the former regime. Consequently, it is important to find a regime characterized by firmness, justice and willingness to fight the corrupted, known as the “fat cats” and “crocodiles,” and to start with the most corrupt first.
The fifth challenge is Israel. Despite the Camp David Accord signed between the Egyptian and Israeli sides, the latter does not like the presence of a national free regime which carries the Arab and Islamic concerns. Nor does it like the presence of a regime which assumes its responsibility towards Palestine, rejects the Gaza siege and supports the Palestinian unity. In addition, Israel fears that Egypt makes optimal use of its human and material resources to rebuild its economy and military and scientific strength in a way that disrupts the balance of power which has always been in favor of Israel throughout the last period. While the Egyptians might not resort to provoking Israel directly by cancelling Camp David or stopping normalization, Israel would employ all possible means to ensure its interests. Thus, it would back the forces supportive of normalization and alienated from the nation’s concerns.
The sixth challenge is represented in the US and other Western powers. It is true that the US supported the revolution; however, this support was too late and opportunistic. The US was one of the parties which took advantage of the former regime and remained one of its main supporters despite its knowledge of its corruption.
The US has great interests in the region and Israel remains the cornerstone of its Middle East policy. Moreover, it has huge political, economic, media, security and military capabilities which it can employ to serve its interests. On the other hand, the weaponry of the Egyptian army is American in the first place and the US provides Egypt with $2.1 billion a year to serve its interests rather than those of Egypt. The US might seek to support Egyptian forces with sectarian or extremist liberal or secular background. It might also try to destabilize the internal arena and foil any future revival experience or employ economic pressure and raise security problems in the face of rising powers, which are chosen by the Egyptians without the American consent.
It is not in Egypt’s best interest to antagonize the US or any other external side. However, it is important to identify the best ways to face any pressures which might be employed by the US on the external or internal levels and find the alternatives to deal with these challenges.
The seventh challenge is represented in extremism in all its forms including over-litigation, claiming sanctity and monopolizing the talk about truth. However, it should be noted that extremism is not limited to Islamists, for extremism can be promoted by Christians, leftists or liberals. Further, it can come from forces which seek to crush the other under the cloak of secularism and nationalism.
To overcome this challenge, it is the duty of everybody to pursue a track of moderation, tolerance, coexistence and peaceful rotation of power, respect the other opinion and put the interests of the nation beyond factional, partisan and personal interests.
The eighth challenge is restoring brain drain. Indeed, Egypt has lost much as result of the migration of thousands of brains which did not find suitable environment for work and creativity. Thousands of them have become pillars and beacons of science in the US, Western Europe and Canada where their potentials are exhausted in the development of Western civilization whereas their country lags behind. According to some estimates, the Arab world has lost more than $200 billion as a result of the migration of scientists, where about half of those are from Egypt.
It is the core function of the revolution to restore these brains and find suitable circumstances for them to stay. This would reduce the time and efforts needed in development and help Egypt assume the position it is worthy of.
The ninth challenge is represented in accomplishing the mission and eliminating the remnants of the corrupt regime. This issue is a major concern for the Egyptian society as there is a feeling that the revolution has not accomplished its objectives yet while remnants of the old regime still occupy important positions. These are trying to hinder the reform process and seeking a counter-revolution. However, it should be noted that it is important to accomplish the mission without exhausting all efforts at the expense of other priorities. In addition, the spirit which governs the process should be that of justice rather than retaliation and revenge.
The last challenge to the change in Egypt is to not rush harvest before the fruits ripen. Haste usually leads to failure and frustration while skipping stages is similar to dashing the dirt under the carpet where problems would only accumulate. Certainly the masses need fast achievements; thus, it is safer for the leadership to be honest with the public regarding what can be achieved, what needs time to be achieved and what cannot be achieved at all. In addition, it is important to schedule missions and procedures then monitor their implementation without being dragged into corruption or deception of the masses.
The forces of revolution and change need a “code of honor” to control their work. This is essential because any revolutionary situation, especially in the transition phase and throughout its journey to form a strong and stable political regime, faces many challenges as every side tries to achieve different aspirations. Once matters are settled, five aspects at least are present which might cause repercussions that serve the enemies of the revolution and external forces trying to derail the course of events.
The first among these aspects is the increase in political opportunism and blackmail especially from less popular forces.
The second aspect is presenting empty promises and divergence from reality.
The third is the resort of some forces to external powers to enforce their position on the internal level. This aspect is very dangerous as it paves the way for employing these internal forces as troy horse to infiltrate the country and influence its policies.
The fourth is the recourse of some forces to the use of force to impose their vision especially if they fail to achieve their objectives via the ballot box.
The fifth aspect is the chaos which plagues with transitional phases where the central authority becomes weaker and where some sides cannot differentiate between freedom and disorder or between the spirit of responsibility and chaos which ruins any reform process.
The original Arabic article appeared on Al Jazeera.net on 12/8/2011
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 16/8/2011