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FAHMY: Egypt’s second chance at democracy

The military deposing of Morsi was ‘by no means the preferred outcome’

- - Monday, July 22, 2013

It is a rare thing when a nation is afforded a second chance at achieving democracy. In Egypt, we have been given just such an opportunity. After the historic January 2011 revolution, Egyptians have revolted again — this time against the autocracy of President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

A record of misrule that brought Egypt to the brink of economic collapse, political paralysis and a breakdown in public security was not the worst of Mr. Morsi's failings. It was the Brotherhood's relentless drive to monopolize power and its divisive insular religious dogma that ultimately delegitimized his presidency and triggered the latest wave of revolution.

Yet, perhaps the greatest tragedy of Mr. Morsi's legacy is that he left Egypt with nothing but bad options to escape from the debacle of his presidency. The groundswell of popular resentment that had been building up for months focused on a single demand of early presidential elections. What Egyptians were calling for was immediate political change through the ballot box. It was Mr. Morsi's repeated refusal to accede to this simple demand that prompted Egyptians to take to the streets in the millions on June 30 in what was perhaps one of the largest political demonstrations in modern history.

That it ultimately required the intervention of the military to depose Mr. Morsi from office was by no means the preferred outcome of any of the parties involved in the anti-Morsi coalition, and certainly not the military itself. Yet Mr. Morsi's refusal to respond left the military with a stark choice: either intervene after the outbreak of large-scale civil strife, or intervene to pre-empt such a calamity. Out of a sense national obligation, it reluctantly chose the latter.

It now falls on Egypt's interim leadership and the newly formed Cabinet to seize this historic opportunity. There can be no denying that this is an endeavor fraught with risk, and even danger. Yet the second chance afforded us by the revolution is one we cannot afford to squander.

The mandate before us is clear: to successfully oversee a rapid transition back to an elected civilian leadership, thus consolidating the foundations for Egypt's emerging democracy. No one is more acutely aware of the need for a rapid transition to civilian rule than the military. The next day after Mr. Morsi's ouster, power was transferred to Judge Adly Mansour the Head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, who now holds full executive authority as interim president. The transition plan he announced offers a clear and precise timetable; a new constitution in three months, parliamentary elections in four to five months, followed by presidential elections bringing Egypt back to full democratic rule in no later than nine months.

The more urgent challenge is the need to institute a process of political reconciliation, specifically with the Muslim Brotherhood. In sharp contrast to the Brotherhood's exclusionary approach, there is a widespread consensus among the revolutionary coalition on the principle of broad political inclusion — to include Islamists. All political forces should have a place in Egypt's emerging political order on the basis of a true pluralistic ethic and respect for minority rights irrespective or who holds the political majority. The door is thus wide open for the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Brotherhood, to participate in future elections, and shape the new constitution, provided its members abide by this basic tenet. However, should the Brotherhood resort to violence to destabilize Egypt's nascent democracy, they will no doubt be the biggest losers. Contrary to the Brotherhood's portrayal of Mr. Morsi's ouster as just another round in their historic confrontation with the military, their real confrontation today is with the broad center of Egyptian society, which has thoroughly repudiated their rigid ideology. If the Brotherhood decides to play the spoiler, the result will be not be spiraling violence for Egypt, but political suicide for their movement.

Finally, there is the challenge of salvaging Egypt's economy. That this is a top priority for Egypt's interim government is clearly reflected in the strong economic team assembled under Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi, himself a world-renowned economist bringing the professional competence and diversity that was sorely lacking under Mr. Morsi's administration. The focus of the new government will be to restore confidence in the economy by addressing the burgeoning budget deficit, restoring law and order and enhancing social services, thus combining responsible government spending with a strong pro-growth agenda and a robust social dimension that has been a consistent demand of the revolution.

These are formidable challenges. I have no doubt that the coming months will test the commitment of Egypt's interim leadership as it navigates the difficult transition to democracy. Yet, standing on June 30 among the millions of Egyptians who yearn for a democracy worthy of their rich history, I became sure of one thing: The authoritarianism that has long plagued Egypt's politics is now a thing of the past, for they will never allow it to return.

Nabil Fahmy is the foreign minister of Egypt.