POMED Notes: “Revolution under Siege: Is There Hope for Egypt’s Democratic Transition?”
On Monday, Freedom House hosted an event entitled “Revolution Under Siege: Is There Hope for Egypt’s Democratic Transition?” The panel featured Mr. Anwar El Sadat, Chairman of Egypt’s Reform and Development Party; Nancy Okail, PhD, Director of Freedom House-Egypt; and Mohamed Elmenshawy, Director of the Languages and Regional Studies Program at Middle East Institute. The event was moderated by Ruth Wedgwood, Burling Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
For full event notes, continue reading below or click here for the PDF version.
Anwar El Sadat believes that there is indeed hope for Egypt’s democratic transition, and that things will begin to settle down now that Morsi has been declared president. He stressed that now is the time to look forward to Egypt’s challenges and for the opposition to reunite to continue the transition. The SCAF will hand over power as promised, he believes, and their constitutional declaration was made in order to secure a constitution that is acceptable to all parties. “I don’t care about who is president,” El Sadat said, “I care about the constitution.” He argued that Egypt needs to see a balance and separation of powers, and that it is these institutions that are missing. The elected government, SCAF, and other political players are in discussion now over Egypt’s future, and Egyptians must be patient and give them a chance to work it out. He concluded by noting, in regard to the SCAF’s authority, that it took a long time to get the military out of power in Turkey, and we should expect a similar outcome in Egypt to take some time.
Nancy Okail noted that before January 25 it was difficult to assess the various political forces in Egypt. The regime controlled the political sphere, and its message was that the choice was between the regime and instability. Over the next 16 months the SCAF tightened its hold in three areas: Legislative, in which it secured the right to issue the emergency law, and to determine the constituent assembly and how the constitution is drafted; executive, through appointing a weak cabinet obedient to the SCAF, containing a number of holdovers from the previous regime; and populist, by which it put the revolution under siege, isolating revolutionary voices from the rest of Egypt. In recent weeks the SCAF has taken measures in the same three arenas, effectively limiting the power of the newly elected government. Okail wondered what kind of power President Morsi will have in the future, and what he will be able to achieve, arguing that he does not have a broad base of support. Many people who voted in the presidential election voted to avoid certain outcomes rather than in support of a particular candidate, most of whom were activists who hoped to end military rule. Many are new to the political scene, she noted, and thus have little party affiliation, and a “high elasticity” in responding to events.
Mohamed Elmenshawy, however, disagreed with El Sadat, arguing that the president does matter. A president from the previous regime would have killed the revolution, and it is important to have someone from outside the ruling elite. To have an Islamist president is significant as well. Other political forces must note the Muslim Brotherhood’s high level of organization and be willing to get their hands dirty as well. At this time Elmenshawy noted, the Brotherhood are the only ones qualified to run the country at this time. Many people voted for Morsi, he believes, not because they love him, but because they want real change and the Muslim Brotherhood is getting this message loud and clear.
The SCAF must also get credit for how they handled the transition, Elmenshawy contended. They had no option but to handle it with little understanding of democracy, free and fair elections, and transparency. He also believes that the SCAF truly want to hand over power. “They are not competent to control the country,” he said, “and they know that.” Elmenshawy feels that most Egyptians are willing to leave the SCAF to handle their own business for now, so long as they stay out of the political process. He concluded by pointing to two issues to watch. First, though the old guard was defeated, they will continue to fight to survive, though he believes that in time they will give up the fight. Secondly, it is likely that Khairat al-Shater will effectively be the real president, and how Morsi handles his relationship with the Brotherhood, with whom he has formally severed ties, will be an important issue.