What´s at Stake with Egypt Vote? (Washington Institute) Dennis Ross USA Today Op-Ed 06/13/12)
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Nothing captured the imagery of change in the Middle East more than
last year´s demonstrations in Tahrir Square that brought down Hosni
Mubarak, Egypt´s president for 30 years. The sense of hope and
possibility that seemed so alive in Tahrir Square made everyone in
the Middle East believe there truly was going to be an Arab Spring.
What a difference a year makes. With Egypt´s economy in free fall,
with a new constitution still not written, with security generally
lacking, and with the recent presidential elections producing a
runoff this weekend between an uninspiring Muslim Brotherhood
candidate and an official who appears to be a remnant of the Mubarak
regime, the mood of optimism has soured in Egypt -- as well as in the
U.S., with some potentially troubling consequences.
But the euphoria over the Arab Spring was always misplaced and
unrealistic. Change needed to come to the Middle East and was bound
to do so sooner or later. The speed of the awakening triggered by the
Facebook generation just masked the inevitability that satisfying a
growing sense of indignity and injustice was always going to take
time and, at the outset, was almost certain to favor the Islamists.
How did we arrive at this point? Leaders such as Mubarak denied
secular forces the ability to organize and create an alternative --
especially to his rule. But the one place Mubarak could not take on
was the mosque, where one was free to speak, organize, provide social
services and embody social justice.
When Mubarak was pushed out, there was a vacuum politically, and the
Islamists were most equipped to fill it. Secular alternatives were
not. They were neither organized nor had clear identity or purpose.
Worse, they had few ties to lower, impoverished classes in a country
that is deeply religious.
So the U.S. is faced with either the Muslim Brotherhood or a member
of the old Mubarak regime. What might the future look like?
Islamists -- the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme
Salafis -- captured two-thirds of the seats in the parliamentary
elections. But they have done little to prove that they are capable
of improving the quality of life or taking on any of Egypt´s
Today, it is not clear who retains credibility. The military has
managed the transition to civilian rule poorly. Neither candidate,
Mohamed Morsi, who comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ahmed
Shafiq, whose career was spent in the military, speaks of challenging
the military and its prerogatives. And though the military is
declaring that a Constitution must be drafted soon or it will offer
an interim one to define the powers of the president, whoever is
elected will face daunting challenges with authority that remains to
WHAT MIGHT BE AHEAD
To be sure, if Morsi is elected, the Brotherhood will control both
the presidency and the parliament. The group has an anti-Western,
anti-Israeli, pan-Islamic ideology. It is a highly disciplined
organization with a dictatorial bent that believes Islam must be at
the center of all life, including political life. Would its members
recognize that Egypt´s urgent economic needs require help from the
outside and unity on the inside? That is an unknown.
Shafiq, the other candidate, is secular. He was appointed prime
minister by Mubarak in his waning days. He is far less likely to
alter Egypt´s approach toward the region and the world and, having
effectively run Egypt´s national airline, might have a better
appreciation of what is required economically. But would order be
more important than reform for him? No one really knows.
At this point, the odds of Morsi winning are probably greater given
the superior organization of the Brotherhood and because leading
secular figures of the revolution are backing him out of fear that
Shafiq will undo the revolution. That said, the longing for law and
order could yet produce a surprise Shafiq victory. The parliamentary
and presidential elections have been basically free and fair.
Though the U.S. might have a strong stake in Egypt remaining
committed to peace, fighting terror and being a source of stability
in a rapidly changing Middle East, it is not America that will
determine Egypt´s future -- Egyptians will. We can hope that
Egyptians, seeing themselves as citizens and no longer as subjects,
will insist that any government elected needs to deal with Egypt´s
problems and be accountable to them. And we should make our views
clear even before the election runoff that we are very willing to
help Egypt deal with its problems.
But we make our own choices, and our decisions will depend on Egypt´s
behavior. For the U.S. to provide material and financial support to
the new government, Egypt must respect the rights of minorities and
women. It must permit basic rights of free speech and assembly and
ongoing political competition to ensure repeatable elections. And it
must fulfill its international and treaty obligations, including its
peace treaty with Israel.
These basic ground rules for our support should be stated very
clearly now -- before the runoff. If Egypt´s new leaders are not
prepared to play by these rules, they -- and the Egyptian public --
should be aware of the consequences before they go to the polls this
weekend. Whatever they decide, our response should not come as a
surprise to them.
Dennis Ross is counselor at The Washington Institute and former
special assistant to President Obama.
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