Egypt After the Revolution: What’s next?
On Thursday, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted a discussion entitled “Egypt After the Revolution: What’s next?” The panelists discussed the political situation in Egypt more than a year after mass protests forced Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak to step down. Currently, the potential of Egypt’s revolution has yet to be realized and both the direction of the country and its relations with the U.S. are uncertain. The discussion featured Ambassador of Egypt Sameh Shoukry, General James L. Jones, former National Security Advisor, Robert Satloff, executive director the Washington Institute for near East Policy, Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director American Islamic Congress Member. Mary Beth Sheridan, senior national/international editor for the Washington Post, moderated the discussion.
For full event notes, continue reading below or click here for the here for PDF format.
The moderator directed her first question to General James L. Jones, asking about an overview on U.S. policy toward Egypt. General Jones believed that the U.S can be of “great assistance” to the democratic transition that Egyptians are seeking, but said the U.S. has to re-think how it can help this transition. According to his observations, the organized groups and the youth who were leading the revolutions one year ago are not the benefactors of the fall of the regime and have been dismissed from an active role on the Egyptian political scene. He added, that the partnership between the U.S and Egypt has to be considered on a long-term scale and focus on the ‘particular relations between the two countries,” specifically military and economic ties.
Ambassador of Egypt Sameh Shoukry reminded to the audience that the transition was first and foremost an opportunity for Egypt in terms of pushing a freedom and human rights agenda. Regarding the political scene, he mentioned that the Muslim Brotherhood were practical and consider the relationship with the U.S. as a source of mutual benefit, and thus will look for mutual respect through balanced policies. The dynamic in the region that lead to uprisings in some countries was not carried by an Islamist ideology, like in Egypt. It was a call for a transformation of the society
Mary Beth Sheridan asked the Ambassador about the arrest of American NGO workers in Egypt. Their goal is to promote democracy and train citizens member of the civil society as what the demonstrators were claiming for during the upheaval. The Egyptian Ambassador replied that the workers could enjoy freedom to support civil society and public awareness, what would contribute to the democratization of Egypt. The arrest should not be understood as a conclusion of all activities from these NGOs. Shoukry added that this event should be consider in a much broader perspective and that the dialogue between the two countries should continue.
Robert Satloff addressed the perspective of an elected Islamist government in Egypt. Satloff expressed doubt about the statement of Obama on history driving to democracy, ‘ we will see if Egypt will become freer than before.” He reminded the audience that the Muslim Brotherhood made three promises that did not committed into: not to run for more 30 percent of the seats in the parliament, not to propose a candidate to run presidential elections, not to create a constituent assembly. The U.S. should not be reluctant to deal with Egypt because the country is lead by an Islamist party but if Egypt does not join the U.S. interest that are political pluralist, religious diversity, minority tolerance, counterterrorism, peace with Israel and democratic institutions.
Zainab Al-Suwaij focused on the civil society. Egypt had a civil society composed of local NGOs and associations working on social issues, however, their influence increased since the uprising and they are attempting to drive Egypt in a new direction. The civil society is part of social debate in Egypt society. On the other hand, the Islamist parties are also key actors in Egypt society and the question is how they are going to respond on issues such as minorities’ rights, and youth unemployment.
Sheridan asked about the U.S. economic assistance to Egypt. The General answered that it was an important part of the U.S. policy as it is a positive message send to Egypt. However the U.S. remains unpopular and it is the challenge of the U.S. to gain Egyptians trust. The partnership should also involve the private sector. He also added that the U.S. should have a strategic view on the region by contributing to respond to people demands, which he defined as “more equality, more opportunities and more freedom.”
Satloff admitted that he would have preferred that the U.S. had waited until SCAF transferred power to the upcoming Egyptian President, which is scheduled to happen in June, for providing the military aid. However he also proposed that the U.S. should rethink the aid with the coming elected government, as the aid that U.S. provides currently each year was designed under the former regime. The new leadership may target other priorities.
Ambassador Shoukry asserted that the partnership between the U.S. and Egypt was viable and beneficial for both countries; it has also provided stability in the region, “it is reasonable to think that the new government will continue it.” He added that Egypt is willing to promote democracy but will need assistance programs as it will require “a lot of effort.”
Al-Suwaij is confident that the civil society will continue to grow and be better structured in Egypt but generally in the region. She reminded the audience that the civil society did not exist in countries such as Iraq and Tunisia but as soon as the dictators left power, the civil society emerged quickly. Civil society also raises the expectations of democracy, focusing on promoting rights for minorities, gender equalities, diversity of religious minorities etc.
Satloff warned that the Egyptians voted twice in the last months against all what could refer to Mubarak regime by empowering the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliament. So the U.S. should be careful to act according to Egyptians will. However, the NGOs work is difficult as there are not welcomed by Islamist parties who disagree with their liberal agenda and the SCAF is reluctant to welcome organizations promoting a democratic transition agenda. “We need to take a special care of this situation,” said Satloff.