by Paula Bianca Lapuz
More than a month ago, the world witnessed the first democratic exercise in the course of the Arab Spring revolt after some four million Tunisians voted for a constituent assembly to draft their country’s new charter.
Weeks later, the second nation in the Arab league to succeed in ousting a dictator followed suit. Egypt conducted its parliamentary elections on November 28, 2011, after tremendous pressure from angry protesters who felt that the transition to democracy was too slow (Al Jazeera 2011) (Kirkpatrick 2011).
Violence escalated once more in the Tahrir Square as demonstrators demanded the resignation of the generals heading the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s group of senior military officers that formed the military junta following Hosni Mubarak’s political demise in February (BBC 2011). Members of Egypt’s interim government, operating under the auspices of SCAF, had likewise submitted their resignation last week amid growing dissent over the army rule (Al Jazeera 2011).
SCAF, however, reassured the public that the military will relinquish power to a civilian government once elections for the parliament and the President are over by June 2012 (BBC 2011).
What do analysts say?
Al Jazeera sought the expert opinion of various scholars and diplomats on the issue, all of whom recognized the importance of the first elections as crucial to efforts at nation-building.
University of Georgia Professor Carrie Wickham noted that the only obvious disadvantage of holding elections sooner rather than later is the insufficient time for contending political parties to build up platforms and convince voters. Further, former Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Dean of American University in Cairo Nabil Fahmy said that he would have preferred to draft a constitution before electing a new government. But just the same, he acknowledged that elections will address one of the demands of the Egyptian populace: to be involved in their country’s political processes (Horesh and Bollier 2011).
Aside from political issues, Ilan Berman said that more importantly, measures must be taken to save Egypt’s ailing economy, pointing to a huge budget deficit nearing 9% of its Gross Domestic Product and an external debt amounting to $35 billion. Apparently, foreign aid has been slow in reaching the country’s coffers. Without this support, Egypt faces a possible bankruptcy according to its Minister for Manpower and Immigration, Ahmed al-Borai (Berman 2011). And with the political and economic problems hounding the nation, the next leaders will have to act quickly.
This election will determine not only Egypt’s political stability, but its economic recovery as well. SCAF leader Hussein Tantawi is wary of further disputes in their country, saying that Egypt is “at a crossroad” where all stakeholders must make a choice between surviving and facing grave consequences (BBC 2011).
If we are to speculate, donors might be reluctant to pour in aid as quickly as they should precisely because of Egypt’s political instability. There are always trade-offs in international relations, and unless the political climate in Egypt becomes predictable, then aid could probably come in trickles. This can only result into further economic woes and into more political unrest.
SCAF, on the other hand, blames “foreign hands” for the recent chaos. Tantawi said that they will not let “troublemakers meddle in the elections (Al Jazeera 2011).” Tantawi was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years, making it somehow understandable that many people doubt him. As is usually the case in any political scenario after a revolution, members of the “difficult past” refusing to let go of their positions of power usually have no added value to reform and reconciliatory initiatives.
If SCAF will step down to allow other equally worthy leaders to stir the government of Egypt while the charter is being drafted, then it could probably spur not only nation-building, but healing and reconciliation as well. For example, Mohamed ElBaradei, former United Nations Nuclear Agency head has offered to forego his presidential bid, if SCAF will allow him to lead as Prime Minister in the interim (Al Jazeera 2011).
What Egypt needs at the moment is a leadership with moral ascendancy to lay the foundation for the transition to democracy. If no room is made for actual reforms to take place, then the world cannot expect genuine change that the Arab Spring revolution aimed for.
Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Middle East. November 27, 2011. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/11/20111127144858738355.html (accessed November 28, 2011).
BBC. BBC Middle East. November 28, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15914277 (accessed November 28, 2011).
Berman, Ilan. CNN Global Public Square. November 21, 2011. http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/21/berman-egypts-dire-economy/ (accessed November 28, 2011).
Horesh, Roxanne, and Sam Bollier. Al Jazeera Features. November 20, 2011. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/11/201111181155455132.html (accessed November 28, 2011).
Kirkpatrick, David D. The Washington Post Middle East. November 28, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/world/middleeast/egyptians-vote-in-historic-election.html?ref=africa (accessed November 2011, 29).